Treated like a Prince
What happens when you reduce 200 liters of Ox-tail broth over a week until you’re down to 2 liters and then drizzle it over beef that spent 8 hours in an immersion cooker? Magic, at least that is about as sophisticated a word I can think of for the most sophisticated meal I have ever enjoyed. My thesaurus is insufficient to relate fully the sensory joys of that meal and my time in Halden. But I’ll give it a go.
Thursday and Friday were my first real Fulbright grantee duties: an overnight road trip to Halden for two days of learning at the Fremmedspråksenteret at the local university-college, Høgskole i Østfold (HiØf). The Fremmedspråksenteret is the national center to support the furtherance of the world’s languages in Norwegian schools. I was eager just to get out of Oslo.
My dearest friend in Norway, the #32 bus, picked me up without delay on Thursday morning towards Oslo Sentrum, the central train station and hub for region. Setting aside the always engaging vistas, a persistent pleasurable sight are all the denizens on bikes wheeling to work. Such a lesson for America. We have no grounds for blaming the weather. Case in point, Minneapolis is #1 in bicycle commuters; take that L.A. ;).
With a minor hiccup I met my party on the #19 track to take the #102 train bound for Halden. The assemblage was the three Rovers, the three English Teaching Assistants (ETA) from the universities, and our rock, Rena. The train affords people the opportunity to travel and actually talk because of the seating you can actually look at one another. So convivial.
Traveling south and east there were times the countryside was packed with orchards, berry patches, and fruit farms. The geography reminded me a lot of growing up in western Wisconsin. In other stretches I saw fusions of northern Minnesota and northern Alabama. Since it was all new it was all interesting. Near Sarpsborg we had to switch to a bus because of construction to finish the trip. Not much of a bother, but I do prefer the train.
As you drive into Halden the Fortress looms overhead, an impressive sight. Fredriksten festning has guarded south-east Norway for over 300 years. Today it has been repurposed as a hub for cultural activities that live in juxtaposition from the violent history of the grounds; think Isaiah 2:4.
HiØf was a welcoming host. Outside the Stars and Stripes flew alongside the Norwegian Standard. Inside, our conference room was rich with treats, coffee, and warm smiles. We got a lot of information on the purpose of the center and education in Norway. The star was lunch though. They put on an impressive spread in a private courtyard. We lounged in the sun and ate and chatted. The time for lunch to end came and went. I think the staff were all too happy to spend as much time in the gorgeous sun as they could. I was actually relieved to get back inside because I got pretty irradiated.
We Fulbrighters clucked excitedly about the food – we were surprised and so appreciative of the bounty; little did we know… Training ended and we bid adieu to Rena and ETAs, they were done, the Rovers had another day. Here’s where I need to read itineraries better or just get a clue (what would Sheldon Cooper do?) because the balance of the day was unexpected.
Three of the women from the center accompanied us by taxi to the Fredriksten hotel and then took us on a tour of the fortress grounds before dinner (dinner was in the fortress). Fine company and an idyllic day overlooking Halden was too good. The fortress is worth a visit. We strolled the grounds and then got a private tour from a guide who’s measured and deliberate english added a gravity to her tales.
Next stop was back into the inner fortress to a tiny restaurant tucked into a former soldiers’ quarters. I was advised that this was going to be really good, special. But with my belly still working on lunch, I wasn’t as eager as I should have been.
Pre-course: A first-rate flute of sparkling white wine al fresco with petite appetizers for stimulation: on crackers were a salmon, cured ham, and moose salami topped with currants. We could have stopped there, but the dinning room beckoned. Forgive me for glossing over the balance of the meal but to account for all of it would take the wordsmithing of James Joyce or David Foster Wallace. Perhaps Hunter S. Thompson would have been the better chronicler of the evening because it was a blur and haze of exceptional food and merry conversation with new friends. Four hours later we finished supper and parted company. The wizardry of chef Sebastian Engh had me full to the gills; I appreciated the long walk back to the hotel.
Friday was more exploratory learning back at the center. Another sun-soaked lunch and then the director, a true Mensch, gave us a lift to the station for a return trip to Oslo. Attention creative fiction and story writers (Nick Bulter – talking to you), your lead character is a Norwegian, who lives in Sweden, and dreams in German. Go.
Does the prince get treated as well as I was in Halden? I suppose, but he has certain expectations. For the elements of sheer surprise and joy, I’d like to believe I came out better.