Michael Kleiner comes home to Norway
Writer returns with the third generation to be reunited with friends
The Norwegian American
This is the second installment of a series of articles by The Norwegian American Sports and Business Editor Michael Kleiner, chronicling his summer vacation to Norway in the summer of 2019, 22 years after his last visit and 50 years since he lived in Oslo for a year with his family. Kleiner journals his stay with meticulous detail, offering insight into the Norwegian way of life from a uniquely Norwegian-American perspective. During his time away, much had changed—and much had stayed the same.
Part 2: The first weekend back
Saturday, June 29: Reconnecting with friends
Frokost, breakfast, was traditional for the home. Bread, cheese, including goat cheese, smoked salmon (lox), salami. Eivind and Angela had ideas about we could do. Ferry around Oslofjord to one of the islands. Eivind had asked what Matthew liked to eat and he said cheeseburgers. After the ferry, we could come back and Eivind would make the cheeseburgers on the grill. They also thought that at some point we could visit his parents’ gravesites to honor all four parents. (Never were able to do it, but what a moving thought.)
Torbjørn, one of Dad’s two former student research assistants in 1969-70, said he had an old basic Nokia phone I could borrow while in Norway so I would be able to make and receive Norwegian calls. He and his wife, Veslemøy, whom I had not met, and her granddaughter, stopped by on their way to Sweden. Torbjørn was now about 75. He said Are, his oldest from his first marriage, now 43, was married to a Peruvian woman and they had a 13-year-old daughter. They would be in town—lives at Torbjørn’s old wooden house at Skådalen—through the weekend. He gave me his number. Audun, 38, had a son, but was away. Ingrid, 31, and Anja, 27, from his relationship with Debbie (an American woman who went to the International Summer School in 1973 and stayed), live in Sweden and would not be around. That was disappointing. Since she was 4, Ingrid helped me with Norwegian. Last time, Ingrid was 9 and Anja 5. They played music and sang in honor of Lisa and me getting married.
Veslemøy shared that her grandmother had lived near Tidemands gate. When she was a young girl, she had to walk past our house. The house looked scary, and she thought there was a witch living there. She would run past it. When she had shared that with Torbjørn, he had said, “But, that’s where Michael’s dad lived.”
They wanted to go with us to Frognerseteren Restaurant for the eple kake med krem, apple cake with whipped cream, when they came back from Sweden and we came back from Flåm, since that was where Dad always wanted to go. It was on my itinerary for me, anyway.
There is a lot of construction in Eivind and Angela’s neighborhood, so they have to drive around a lot of detours and must take a bus to the subway/train.
Eivind made some open-faced sandwiches to take with us to the ferry. The six of us walked to the bus, but now you buy your tickets at the 7-Eleven, a coffee chain, Narvesen newsstand or ticket machines. In this case, it was the 7-Eleven. You get a free transfer within the hour.
As if it matters. What hasn’t changed is the honor system on public transit. You enter through the middle or back of the bus or train. On the bus, there’s usually a scanner that you tap with the ticket. No one is watching. We took the bus to Soros, then the train to the Nationatheateret stop in sentrum. There is not always a scanner on the train. No conductor walks the train checking for tickets.
“I found their public transportation to be a lot more reliable,” said Jack. “They seemed to run a lot more frequently than the buses here. It’s the honor system. Which I found kind of strange. I liked it, but I don’t know if I liked it because, ‘oh I can get on the bus for free,’ or if I liked it because it was more trusting of its citizens. Probably a little bit of both.”
Out at Nationalteatret, up the ramp to the exit. There was the fountain at the exit and the Narvesen (newsstand, sometimes sells books and food). Back in familiar surroundings. We hung a right to head toward Aker Brygge, Aker Harbor. We passed two open bookstores within a block. There were swarms of people walking around.
We had missed the transfer to the boat by two minutes, said Eivind. The boats are part of the public transit. We found where we were to take the ferry. While waiting in line, we realized it was hot. It was in the 80s Fahrenheit. We ate our sandwiches while waiting, and Jack and I stared at the ice cream shop. Finally, it was time to board.
We were heading to Langøyene, The Long Islands, which got a laugh from us. Along the way, we saw Norwegians at beaches, sets of rocks, some swimming in the fjord waters. At Langøyene, people poured out, some with backpacks, families, heading to a beach. We went to the kiosk for ice cream. Then, we went to catch the ferry back.
It took a while to get back to the house. There’s no air conditioning, so there isn’t relief when you go into the house. The day-long light plays tricks with you on what time it really is. By the time we sat down in the yard to eat the cheeseburgers, it was around 7:30 or 8 in the evening.
Eivind had recorded the quarterfinal game between Sweden and Germany. Angela is German, so he could go either way on the result. Sweden played well to advance and Eivind said they might be able to win it all. I was sticking to my prediction that the Americans were going to win.
Sunday, June 30: Retracing my steps
I had been invited to American Independence Day in Frogner Park (July 26, 2019, The Norwegian American, www.norwegianamerican.com/?s=American+Independence+Day+in+Oslo). In search of it, we crossed the bridge of Vigeland statues. The bird that always seems to be on this particular statue every time I visit was there again, or it was a different generation of bird. We saw the boy having the temper tantrum.
We walked around, and after eating waffles with chocolate syrup, Jack asked, “Can we do something Norwegian today?”
The idea was to go to Karl Johans gate to see the shops. I was also trying to arrange to meet Are and his family. Amazingly and proudly, I still knew my way around. We needed to make a slight detour. First, we went past where Dad worked in 1969-70, Institut for Samfunnsforskning, the Institute for Social Research, on Munthes gate, and then to Tidemands gate where we lived.
The house looked like it had been painted. The Brazilian embassy—and also, maybe the Turkish embassy—were on the same street (in 1969-70), and the smell of coffee would spread in the morning. Lisa took a picture of me in front. The living room door to the porch was open. In 1996, I did knock on the door. The woman who had rented the apartment to us, while she and her husband were in the Netherlands, still lived there! Despite her being ill and elderly, she let me and my friend inside to see it. Shockingly, she remembered my family.
I led us to Frognerveien, where we could catch the tram. Some of the road was being dug up. All over Oslo, there is construction of new buildings and museums or fixing of roads. We went toward Frognerveien and Thomas Heftyes gate, where there was a big tram stop. When the tram came, we learned that the driver no longer sells tickets as sometime in the past they did. That stop must have not had a ticket machine or we just totally missed it.
I said, “There’s a 7-Eleven, Narvesen, and a taxi stand a couple of blocks away at Bygdøy Allé and Thomas Heftyes gate. We could catch the 30 bus from there.” That was the bottom of the street where Odd and Ragnhild had lived. Well, the 7-Eleven was still there. The place where the taxi stand and Narvesen used to be was now a small plaza with benches and a big stone “Thomas Heftyes plass” sign. The store that used to be the Rimi market was now something else. Things change in 22 years.
The 7-Eleven was out of tickets. My phone’s battery was dying. Jack tried to see if Uber came up on his phone, but it was going to cost around $35 to travel around 10 minutes. We were stranded. It was getting on in the day, we had to get up early the next morning for the train west. We called Eivind to see if he could pick us up. I cancelled the visit to Are.
Angela picked us up.
Olav’s oldest from his first marriage, Joachim, now 29—so, 7 the last time I saw him—and Stian joined us for dinner. Joachim had attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and had recorded a CD a few days before. Angela made rømmegrot, sour cream porridge, which was a kind of an appetizer. It was tasty. Eivind said Angela made the best rømmegrot. Then, came out a tray with the meats she had bought when we were at the market yesterday, and the thin crisp flat bread. I think elk was among the cold cuts.
We had a 6:28 a.m. train to catch in the morning, west to Myrdal and then Flåm. Angela was nice enough to offer to drive us to the station. She was able to look up an app to see what track the train was on. Sometimes, you can even drive right up to the platform.
This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.