Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 2

A Day Spent With Norway

Every November, the Kamakura Chapter of Ikebana International travels to one of the many embassies in Tokyo. Personally, these outings are a favorite of mine. Not only do I get to spend the day with my Japanese friends immersed in their culture, but I get join that with an introduction to a new culture. This year we visited with new Norwegian friends at their embassy and their personal residence.

As we got off from the final train stop in Tokyo, I realized that I should have doubled back to the house to get my umbrella as the drizzling was just beginning. I actually use the Japanese as a guide on whether to bring one or not and when I got to the train stop near my house and saw few to no people with one, I figured I was safe for the day. How very wrong. Fortunately, the walk from the station to the embassy was only about ten minutes so I wasn’t soaked to the bone before arriving.

The embassy itself is as nondescript as any other Japanese building in the neighborhood. Only a small plaque identifies what lies behind its solid gates. The first buildings on the grounds were built in 1977, but construction difficulties and earthquakes proved challenging. A new architect was chosen who built two buildings, one four-story part housing the chancery and apartments for embassy personnel and a separate one for the residence. Since those were built additional stories and extensions being added through recent years. The most recent architectural work happened to be the room where we began our day – a multifunction hall that glides up two stories with a second floor gallery to overlook the entire room. It’s a very good thing this was built or I’m not quite sure where they would have put the hundred plus members who came that day. Their coat check had never overflowed like that! In this room, we spent several hours hearing all the ins and outs of life in Norway.

While this is a country that had never entered my radar for possible vacations before, it has certainly been added high on that list now. Not that I am into adventure skiing, dog sledding or ice fishing, but the magnetic beauty and aurora lights are enough to get me there. Our speaker was none other than the Ambassador’s wife, Madam Anita Pratap, an award-winning author and journalist who has worked with the impressive likes of CNN and Time. As you can guess, she is not actually Norwegian, but met her husband when he was assigned to her native country of India. Her stories of things that she has seen in this world…ethnic war in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Asian nuclear testing, conflict between India and Pakistan, just to name a few… are truly amazing and heart-wrenching. But what totally struck me is her love for her new home country in Norway. She wasn’t making it up! She felt deeply for the land and its people and it conveyed enough to make me want to see it for myself.

After her speech, she surprised the I.I. chapter with a little fashion show. Two models dressed in traditional Norwegian wear. One word to describe those outfits – warm. Most pieces were made of wool and layered one on top of another as if they were trying to rival the layers in a kimono. We bounced a few questions off of the models and as they exited, the next highlight arrived. Tae Sakai and Natsuho Taira, two pianists from the Japan-Norway Musician’s Society, both of which have studied at the Norwegian Academy in Norway, provided a piano duet concert full of music from the late great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Not a head in the room didn’t end up swaying to the musical crescendos that echoed through the room.

As they completed, their program, we exited to regroup in the private residence where lunch was to be served. First, and much to my delight, cocktails were being offered in the main room. I snatched a glass of red wine and began to make my way around the large rooms to locate the Edvard Munch’s Madam Pratap had said we would find as well as some other original Norwegian pieces. I didn’t get too far, only scoping out one of the Munch’s before getting caught up in conversations and never beginning my search again.

Madam Pratap had discussed how salmon was a huge part of Norwegian cuisine, so we were prepared for a buffet of multiple styles of salmon. Surprisingly, I only recall two dishes with salmon and the rest covering every scope of the palate. A friend that I had traveled with and I had placed our purses on seats, just as the Japanese do, to hold them until we had full plates. In usual Japanese fashion, it would be rude for anyone to take these spots, which made us completely shocked to find our seats taken and two women sitting on our purses. While they did offer to move, we just politely took our purses and made our way out of the room to see where else we might find a seat. This was much more difficult than expected. As I said, this was a private residence, and one I don’t think has often seen so many visitors at once. In the end, my friend and I decided to place ourselves on the circular stairway that led to the inner parts of their home. Don’t think I didn’t think about peeking, but I didn’t. As it went, some other Japanese friends who had been balancing plates and drinks laughed as we sat on the stairs, but it only took second before we were squeezing in to make room for them. Just as we were finishing, dessert was being served. One of the cakes being served had also been talked about during the earlier speeches, so we had to go see what it was all about. We were expecting some monster of a cake with so many layers that it would be impossible to cut into without knocking it over. Nothing of the sort was displayed. Sure the layered cake was there, but I think our minds must have hyped it up a bit too much. Still, we filled our plate with various samplings and headed this time to the sun room that overlooked a Japanese garden behind the house.

While we were standing there chatting, a man came our way. It’s always unusual to see men at these things. It is a club of all women anyway. But this man was also definitely not Japanese. And he definitely wasn’t the kind of man that I typically get the chance to hang out and chew the fat with. We recognized him immediately from his picture in the program, the Norwegian Ambassador H.E. Arne Walther. As polite, charming and interesting as you would expect such a worldly man to be, Ambassador Walther totally fit the bill. He was open to all of our questions, including my nosiness when asking how he and his wife met. He had previously lived on the U.S. west coast many years before so we chatted about the differences in the places we all have lived. Only when the meeting was being called to a close with group pictures did we end our conversation. I could have gone on and on with him. I was only getting warmed up when it ended all too soon. We did have to laugh while we were on our way back when we thought of why he would single out the two most non-Japanese women in the room... he knew we would speak English and he likely wouldn't have to work so hard at his Japanese.

Sad for the ending of a great day, we made our way to our coats. This time, I really could have used that umbrella. It was pouring. At least I had been smart enough in the cold weather that morning to wrap a scarf around my neck, which now served as an impromptu rain bonnet. I’m sure it looked ridiculous to every umbrella covered person we passed on the street to see a white lady with her hair smooshed back from her forehead by a cashmere cap, but it was better to be laughed at than to be totally soaked. Next time, maybe I will dress myself appropriate for the weather at large.

No comments: