On Foundations in the Norwegian ‘Diaspora’

Hooray for May 17th! Tomorrow is Norway’s Constitution Day – a much anticipated day celebrated with pomp and circumstance in both Norway and most Norwegian ex-pat communities. Some of the latter mark the day in more or less formal ways than others, of course, and in my neck of the woods it has gotten to be quite relaxed. This year it will involve skinny dipping and martinis, gravlaks, Indian takeout, and for dessert, my friend’s irresistible Chat Noir cake, following her family’s secret recipe handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of generations. Well, maybe not hundreds, but you catch my drift. Tradition.

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What impressed my boys the most about May 17th the year we lived in Norway, was that on this day, they learned that children are allowed to eat as much ice cream as they want. This is not a national dictum, and I’m pretty sure something my parents and their partying friends invented back in the 60s and 70s so we , the young’uns, would have our own experience of that era’s hedonistic values. At least for one day.

On a more serious note, since I did invoke the term “diaspora,” normally associated with the Jewish diaspora – although the term is also applied to the dispersion of any people form their homeland – the history of Jews in Norway has its own touchy significance in 2014. As this year marks the 200th anniversary of the creation of the constitution in 1814, it should not be forgotten that at that time, it also included a paragraph with a general ban against Jews (and Jesuits) entering the “kingdom” (you know, those dangerous undesirable folks), a ban which was lifted in 1851 with the determined effort of Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland. (Incidentally, he died in 1845 before the ban was lifted, and so did not live to see the fruits of his labor). Of course, his views were considered quite controversial back then, and his literary style was variously denounced as subversive. Imagine that! 

To express gratitude for Wergeland’s efforts on behalf of the Jews, the Jewish community in Oslo have an annual wreath ceremony at his grave on May 17th.

My sons appreciate the foundations of their Norwegian heritage, such as I have transmitted it to them to best of my ability during my own “diaspora” for the past, yikes, 30 years. They speak the language, are citizens of Norway, will break out in rap in Norwegian, tote viking necklaces interlaced with their Stars of David, yearn to go back every year, to see family and their own friends, eat skolebrød (sticky buns), drink Solo, play in the pool at Frongerbadet, the outdoor municipal pool in Oslo where their mom challenged them to jump form the 10 meter high diving board, and just feel how good it is to belong in more place than one. And such a privileged place to boot. Most importantly, they have their own memories of every day life there, which will remain ingrained in their fibers throughout their lifetimes, and perhaps one day kindle in them the desire to pass it on to their children.

This morning when I again flipped over the gravlaks that has been curing in my fridge for the last 48 hours, in preparations for my culinary contribution to the laid back May 17th celebration, I could not help but crack a smile as I removed the two bricks on top of the fish, functioning as the requisite weight for optimal curing results. The bricks, you see, are from the foundation of my old house down the street where I raised my boys; the house that I moved from when their dad and I divorced. I smiled because, optimally, that’s what we do in life, we move on and take the good stuff with us, and leave the rest behind. And those two old bricks have come to represent just that: a piece of the foundation of not only my children’s life but also of my own identity and memory.

For it’s never really just one memory and one identity. The trick is perhaps to recognize and appreciate the multiple foundations that are the base for who we are becoming. And then celebrate.

Hooray!

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