Norway: back to the cocoon…
by Janice Nigro
I am writing about one cocoon from another cocoon. In some ways the cocoons are similar. You could really use an umbrella in both. In one cocoon the umbrella is used for the rain (and really does you no good because it is too much rain) whereas in the other cocoon, you would use it for the sun (and there is never rain). The ocean is 722 steps from my apartment where I currently reside in my present cocoon, but in the other cocoon, the sea was not so far either. But here there is sand, very hot sand in the middle of the day, and there, there are boulders or fjords. This cocoon has an endless summer whereas the other cocoon maybe seems sometimes as if it never has summer. Except that the summer days have no nights even if they are a bit overcast. It is like one really long all night-er where you cram for summer all day and all night. Because then it’s just winter. But it is no less awesome than where there is the endless summer.
There are some things I miss about being in that cocoon, particularly my friends, and my work (but that is another story). But this cocoon has advantages too-like Dr. Pepper and being able to buy chocolate (Godiva kind of chocolate) and wine in the same store even after 20:00, any day of the week. I can speak English freely here-even with non-Norwegian translatable words like procrastinate.
I went back to the Norwegian cocoon from where I am currently living which is the beach community cocoon in the USA. It is a cocoon and you would understand why when you have to drive somewhere outside of it. Although a great white shark recently entered the cocoon…Norway is a beautiful country that I declared I would never visit when I was 17 years old, and then as an adult decided to live there for seven years. It is a cocoon in the way that the country itself protects the people residing there. The oil industry and a serious tax system support a society so that everyone has a reasonable and dignified standard of living. They almost have a special word that we do not have in English which expresses what it is like to be in the cocoon-koser seg-which sort of means to keep warm and close to friends and family. So there is not much to worry about in Norway except for the usual drama-like who to love or who not to love etc. etc. Of course, in the beach cocoon, I am sometimes brainstorming about what to do about the tan lines from my flip-flops.
It is an odd feeling to return to a country that you lived in for many years. You realize that when you have an experience such as this-ok mine did last for over seven years-it is something that you can never really divorce yourself from. It was a spectacular experience both personally and professionally, but as in a romantic relationship, you sometimes change in ways that make you no longer able to pursue any goals together and ultimately you must move on. It is ironic because it is the relationship that makes you grow in the first place. It was not easy to leave because I was not sure what would happen next, just that I would for sure travel and dive.
So you return not for a holiday return but it is a “to see people” return. I had already climbed mountains in Norway on summer nights and for sure in winter, I went scuba diving even in winter, went snowboarding on a glacier in summer, ate lutefisk (once) and more hot dogs than the entire rest of my life, fell for some Vikings, learned to paint sort of, and viewed the summer sun on the longest day of the year from an island in the north of Norway-a place that few Norwegians actually visit. It is a long list including some remarkable milestones in my professional career.
And of course I went back to speak Norwegian…and maybe to eat Sørlands potato chips…It should have been easy for me to learn Norwegian. Even when you just look at the words before you understand any of the language, it looks a bit like an odd dialect of English. Or maybe it is the other way around. Once you learn it, it seems even more so, but like someone who did not get English quite right or who is a little old fashioned because some words are the same but they are sort of old words in English. Like the word “folk”. It means people in both languages but in US English it is not really a word we use so often any longer to refer to people.
I do not have to go back to Norway to find Norwegians. Or even to speak Norwegian. Enough of them end up in the beach community cocoon in the USA. Still I never considered that the language would be of much use to me outside of Norway which makes it harder to learn. On the other hand I always thought it could bite me on the behind one day because I could meet a Viking in some non-Norwegian locale, like a small island in Indonesia. I will impress him with my Norwegian (or maybe not), and we will fall in love.
I lived in Bergen and when I went back to visit it was spectacularly beautiful at the beginning of the summer. It is a beautiful town located on a fjord and when you look out, small islands populate the sea in front of you. The building I worked in was at the foot of a mountain-Ulriken.
I went and left this time just before the longest day of the year. You would think that you should stay until the longest day, but then you have to leave the next day when the days are already getting short. April and May were my favorite months in Norway because every day was getting longer… So I left before the days hit the other side of the earth’s tilt.
To me Bergen is like a big town, not really a city. I had no idea what the word provincial really meant until I lived there. For instance, there was no Starbucks. “WAS” as unfortunately now there is (only recently)…I was afraid when I went there that I would be trapped there in winter from traveling anywhere but it was only ever a volcano that interfered with any travel plans. I had a theory that Homo sapiens were enchanted with the sun in summer but got trapped when it suddenly turned winter. Because the earth tilts fast in September-and then it is just winter.
I had a few other fears about living in a small place. It is a good thing and a bad thing. All of your worlds are connected whether you want them to be or not. Like when your family visits and everywhere you go you meet someone you know. They think you have a lot of friends. Or when a celebrity is in town, a former president perhaps, you get to shake hands with him while he is actually out on a leisurely stroll…even with the secret service. At the same time if you want to avoid someone, you are sure to see them-and maybe with someone else. Small places force you to behave because someone is always nearby who somehow knows you. But I was also pretty far from my home, the USA.
I had to go back. I had friends to meet, not places to be. Bergen welcomed me with four spectacular summer days. The kind of days that never really end. I only experienced such summers perhaps twice although clouds never bothered me. I remember fondly being out until 23:00 taking photographs of summer flowers because you only have a short period of time to do this. I also remember distinctly thinking in the middle of a summer, we have used up all of our winter activities already, what will we do in winter?
I got to eat the potato chips and some summer strawberries and cherries which were early because of the extraordinary weather. There it was, wooing me back like the early settlers…
And to speak Norwegian. Admittedly I was never that good at it (Norwegians speak flawless English and I was lazy), but I was pretty adamant about showing that I could still do it. It was the first thing my Viking boss asked, can you still speak Norwegian? My biggest test-a grillfest given by my first Norwegian friend ever (Viking), and his Viking friends who I refer to as Viking 2, Viking 6, and Viking 22. A secret code and another brain exercise.
It is the amazing thing about the brain. I believe that all foreign languages are in one spot in the brain separate from the mother tongue, in my case English. I worried when I was living in Norway about having a brain incident and being left with only the Norwegian speaking part of the brain. But by the time I had left in 2012, I spoke Norwegian well enough that the woman on the phone at the phone company commented on how good my Norwegian was and that she understood everything that I was saying. Great, I thought, but I am about to leave in just a couple of hours, and my language skills will only go one way after that. But the words amazingly somehow stayed in my brain, buried of course. The words are there-you understand more than you think you will-but they are not at the front of your brain any longer so speaking which was never my strength was slow. Nonetheless I managed.
I do miss the cocoon although I have not exactly settled in the land of reality back in the USA. Vikings from other Scandinavian countries have asked, what was it, an accident that got you to Norway? Yes, I would reply but the kind that you make good memories from because the Norwegian cocoon has some things right. I had more free time for my brain to work in creative ways. I honestly believe the work that I did there was some of the best of my career-it came from me, and the tools that I had to work with in Norway. Maybe it was learning Norwegian that awakened my brain…
Living tip: try to learn a foreign language to make friends and become creative…
©2014 Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com