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Costa del Norway

6 March 2012

On Saturday night I left the house around 7 p.m. for my evening walk. The path I take is a good climbing exercise: 20 minutes up to the top of the hill and 10 back down the other side.

It was so warm that evening that I took off my hat and unzipped my coat after only a few minutes. 9˚C /48˚ F and not raining. Not even misting. The faintest strip of light still colored the sky above the mountains over Askøy. Spring, I thought. It always feels so deserved in Bergen.

An enormous house sits at the top of the hill like a king surveying his lands: Bergen in one direction, Nordhordaland in another, and the snow-covered mountains further inland. The owners have recently blasted out a good deal of the surrounding rock to take advantage of the view with a wide terrace that wraps around the house. It invites the envy of all who pass by.

As I approached I heard what sounded like a party, with Creedence Clearwater Revival ironically calling out to me: “I wanna know . . . have you ever seen the rain . . . ” Blue Christmas lights had been strung from the roof’s overhang and a man whose belly had seen thinner days was slumped in a rattan lawn chair dreamily staring up at the dark sky. He was wearing only a tee-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. He raised his beer glass in my direction and smiled. This was a one-man party.

Now this is the good life, I thought, or rather that’s what I imagined him thinking. What I was actually thinking was: Ah, the Norwegian Riviera.

A tremendous amount of terrace-building has been going on in Bergen lately, which suggests that today’s Norwegians have been to Spain. The grocery stores are also actively involved in bringing the good life here: right next to the fårepølse hang albóndigas and Jamón Ibérico in colourful plastic containers stamped with Spanish flags. Manchego and fig jam sit up a bit on the cheese counter, making them more prominent than the Norgonzola and gulost.

With Norway boasting the longest coastline in Europe and nearly 24-hours of sun in summer, I can’t imagine what’s holding this country back from becoming a vacation paradise. Except for the weather, of course. And the price of alcohol.

Last week I received an email from my daughter’s barnehage (preschool) with an attached picture of a beach, palm tree and glistening waves. Hanging in the cloudless sky were the words: “Costa del Barnehagen.” Below was a picture of something looking suspiciously like a Mai Tai, complete with tiny umbrella. An invitation followed:

“Hi! 🙂 Tomorrow we are traveling to the South at preschool. There will be a disco, limbo dance, spa, tanning and good drinks. Bring a beach towel, summer clothes and sunglasses. :)”

Spain at the preschool! My daughter could hardly sleep the night before and, taking her cue from our recent flight to the U.S., she woke up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 to pack and get dressed. She chose a pink, flowered sundress, wisely accessorized with a wool shirt, sweater, and fur-lined boots. (At least two of her friends showed up in “Spain” wearing bikinis.)

But who needs the real sun to wear sunglasses and bikinis? Who needs a lido disco in Marbella when you’ve got a set of Christmas lights and lawn chairs!

A curious and remarkable thing has just occurred to me. The word for “sun” is the same in Norwegian as it is in Spanish: sol. And the Vikings had indeed traveled to Spain! What could this possibly mean?

A scene appears clearly in my mind: the Vikings step off their boats, throw their fur wraps aside, and fall prostrate onto the sand, blinded, like the Apostle Paul on his way to Damascus.

“What is this bright light?” they cry out, as if in pain.

“Sol,” a Spaniard replies. “El sol.”

Thank goodness for Spain, I say. Sure it reminds us that warmer, sunnier places exist, but without it we’d be sitting by our fireplaces in patterned wool sweaters all year long, socks pulled up to our knees, wishing we’d built a bit more space around the house to park our ski gear and dog-sleds. We’d be totally oblivious to the existence of this marvelous thing called “the sun,” and we’d stare dreamily at the wood-paneled walls of our cabin thinking: “This is the life!”

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Teresa Owens permalink
    6 March 2012 12:54

    Loving it, as usual. The funny thing for me, though, is that I come from a place with so much sun and heat, that most construction is involved with making the indoors a paradise…..Well, that’s the desert anyway. I know there’s an “in-between” somewhere….yes. Spain. California. Or the newer Norwegian getaway: Florida (just kill me now…I have YET to go there).

    • 7 March 2012 05:24

      That’s true, Teresa! A cultivation of life in-doors and in the shade! Total opposite.

  2. 6 March 2012 15:34

    Check out this CCR parody.
    My Bergenser cousins continue the Viking tradition of visiting Spain on a regular basis. We endure these winters in order to savor the warm and sunny days of summer. Daylight Saving Time happens this weekend. It’s a government mandate for Spring to begin.

    • 7 March 2012 05:23

      Such a good laugh, Jon! Thanks for the think. It’s surprising that the number of Norwegians traveling to Spain haven’t helped it out of its economic crisis! …

  3. Jenn Ladino permalink
    6 March 2012 18:01

    Thank goodness for Spain, indeed! Maybe we can meet you there the next time we go…we’re scheming a sabbatical trip (I have to teach here for six years first, darn it), or maybe a semester teaching exchange before that. In the meantime, Costa del Norway sounds pretty nice too. I love the image of your evening walk up the hill!

    • 7 March 2012 05:25

      That would be so much fun, Jenn! But, what – 4 years left before sabbatical? But then the kids will at least be old enough for more enjoyable cross-Atlantic travel. Costa del Norway is paradise about 12 days a year — but I’m sure you remember that! 🙂

  4. 8 March 2012 20:01

    Wow. and it hasn’t stop snowing in Oslo since yesterday! LOL

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