The fun of the cold

Photo courtesy of Michael Kleiner Michael skating on the oval at Geilo.

Photo courtesy of Michael Kleiner
Michael skating on the oval at Geilo.

The following is an excerpt from Michael Kleiner’s memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway. He spent 1969-70 in Oslo with his family when he was 11. He taught himself to skate on a patch of ice in Vigelands Park. He has returned to Norway several times as an adult and developed an affinity for the country, culture, and people although he is not of Norwegian descent. For more info about Kleiner and the book, see www.beyondthecold.com.

February 1970
The last class on Saturday had finally ended and I was walking down the stairs when I met my father on the way up.

“We have to hurry,” he said. “Erik [his father’s boss] got tickets for the speed skating championships!”

It was 2:15 and we had about a half hour before Erik Rinde and his son, Peder, would pick us up. We rushed home. I bundled up while my mother packed us a thermos of bouillon. We were ready in time.

The two‑day world championships were being held at Bislett Stadion in Oslo. The stadium was packed by the time we got in. It seemed like a massive crowd (In later years, I would learn Bislett’s capacity is around 20,000, small for an outdoor stadium by American standards. Bislett is also the site where many track records, particularly the mile, are set). All Peder and I could see were backs of people. The spectators didn’t sit. They stood. Since we arrived just before the start, we were in the back row. The only way Peder and I were going to see anything was for our fathers to hold us up or find a way to get closer.

We chose the latter.

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We weaved our way through the crowd of legs down the bleachers to the front row and then made one last move. We jumped the railing and were on the ice. The temperature was already below zero Celsius and now we were standing on the ice. From where we had been to where we were now was unbelievable. Nobody else—except coaches and officials—had the view we had. From there, we watched skaters such as Dag Fornæss and Ard Schenk of the Netherlands, as well as the other racers. It was quite a thrill.

When we realized it was time to go, we weaved our way back up through the stands as people helped us along the way. Our fathers were waiting to grab us. By the time we reached the car, I was very cold and dying for something hot. I asked my father for some bouillon.

“We finished it,” he said.

“You what? But I’m freezing. We were standing on the ice!”

Through the years, I’ve gradually forgiven him and the incident has been remembered with good‑natured ribbing.

The next day I decided to defrost and watch the event on TV. My sister went with my father.

Geilo is another name that evokes special memories for us. In the middle of February, there was a mid‑winter recess, a four‑day weekend (which actually was three days off because of school on Saturday. We had been told Geilo was a nice resort area for skiing and relaxation. It was located midway between Oslo and Bergen.

Our British friend, Cissy, came to visit us and she went with us to Geilo. My father drove through the snow to get us there. We stayed at the Geilo Hotel, which was situated right by the train station. It was a really nice place, which had wonderful smørgåsbords at breakfast and lunch and a sit‑down dinner that, of course, included boiled potatoes and parsley. The food was wonderful.

Again, it was quite cold. Cissy borrowed Dad’s parka. She vowed we would never get her on skis, but we have her on film taking some baby steps on skis, all the while saying, “You’ll never get me on skis!”

Snow was plentiful and deep. My father, brother, and sister did a lot of skiing. My father fell once and had trouble getting up because the snow was deeper than he was tall!

We found out where I might be able to skate. There turned out to be an oval nearby. I had never been on an oval before, except to watch the championships. Large drifts of snow had been piled in the middle of the track. Now I could really mimic Dag Fornæss. I did the whole act. I glided around the oval—at no record‑breaking pace—but when I completed the lap, I had crossed the finish line victorious. My sister came out on the ice to congratulate me, followed by the other “adoring fans.”

The highlight of this trip, though, was when we met the Sámi. They are an indigenous people to Northern Europe—Norway, Sweden, and Finland—with a language and culture different than the countries they inhabit. The Sámi are also known as Lapps or Laplanders, but that is considered a derogatory term by the Sámi. It was unusual that the Sámi were this far south. We saw an announcement inviting people to come to the Sámi camp and learn about their culture. There were two ways to get there—by ski or reindeer sled. Dad, Wendy, and Albie decided to ski to the camp. My mother, Cissy, and I opted for the sled. It is hard to say who had more fun, us or them. The Sámi put us in two sleds—my mother and me in one, and Cissy in the other. What lay before us was white tundra. Ready, set, go. Lurch. We were on our way. Nice reindeer, stay straight. Suddenly, Cissy’s sled veered off course. Staying poised and calm, she summoned the famous lines from all those snow tundra movies. “Mush! Mush!” It must’ve worked because we all got to the camp.

My brother’s memory is of a “walled camp,” surrounded by skins draped over wood racks. We sat in the tent while the Sámi, dressed in blue and orange outfits, showed us skins and crafts. It was difficult communicating because they didn’t know English or much Norwegian, and our Norwegian wasn’t that good. Still it was quite an interesting experience. There are Norwegians who haven’t met Sámi!

When we were done, we hopped on our sleds and my father, sister, and brother on their skis.

“Meet you back at the hotel.” Off we went, leaving the Sámi behind, but never to be forgotten.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 21, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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