Winter has arrived in Norway, or shall I say, has been dumped on Norway. And in a town that already has the tendency to look like the perfect storybook version of Santa’s village, Stavanger in snow is almost too much to take. Like cotton candy mixed into a can of Duncan Hines frosting, what started out as pretty darn sweet runs the risk of becoming cloying. On one pre-Christmas evening walk home, I actually felt like lying down in the snow and screaming, “I can’t take it! Enough with the white clapboard houses and twinkly fairy lights and perfect snow-capped mountains!” Honestly the sheer perfection of living in this Ikea Christmas catalog can make your whole world seem strangely artificial.
Now being Canadian, I know my snow from my snow. And I can wholeheartedly say that I feel differently about the snow here than I ever did in Canada. It doesn’t look any different falling from the sky, and it still makes that luscious crunch under my boots after a proper heavy snow. But there is something about only 6 hours of daylight that transforms a place. In this neck of the woods, dusk begins at 3 pm, and if I position my computer in front of our living room windows on a clear day, I have a front row seat as the sun goes down and the light fades. Twilight is a 2 hour affair here. The white streets and houses gradually become one big blanket and single candles are placed in perfectly rectangular windows. White Christmas lights that delicately circle trees and shrubs start to shine. Window curtains are left open and if you wander the winding streets of Gamle Stavanger (“Old Stavanger”) after dark, no one seems to mind you staring in at their immaculately arranged dinner party. And why would they? Life looks pretty good from the inside of Magnus and Ingrid’s gingerbread house. It’s as if they have given up hope that they can be part of the frosty outside world, so we are cordially invited in.
If this is starting to sound like a love letter to my newly adopted country, let me, for the sake of authenticity, paint a more balanced picture. As anyone who has made it through a winter in a snow-afflicted city can attest, there is a serious downside to all this white stuff. Stavanger is no exception. I have decided to keep my “Yak Trax” ice grips on my running shoes this winter, and the relatively stylish boots that were perfectly acceptable for the generally slushy streets of Toronto have been abandoned in favour of their more heavy duty ( and uglier) cousins. In Stavanger, the hilly topography combined with the smooth stone streets would make short work of even your most adept mountain goat. Sitting in a cafe I watch as shoppers in less dependable footwear slide, conveyor-belt like, down a vertical 10 meter stretch of cobblestone street, arms outstretched and mouth in a perfectly petrified “O”. I shake my head and stare down at my coffee. Tourists. Never see pictures of THAT in the Ikea catalog.
Of course, I am convinced that this is all one massive ice-induced conspiracy. And it goes deep, my friends, to the seamy underbelly of this crime-ridden town. But Norway has a reputation for being so upright, uncorrupt and law-abiding, you say. Ha! What does the UN know anyway? This place is filled to the brim with chiropractors, physiotherapists, pharmacies and clinics for something called a naprapath. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Apparently they are the chiropractors of soft and connective tissues. Sounds like a nice bit of massage, but is probably painful as hell when you have fallen smack on your back while carrying two tons of Christmas presents and there is an evil Canadian woman in ugly boots snickering at you from a coffee bar window. Still, someone has got to keep these therapists in business. And I am beginning to see the connection. Maybe Magnus and Ingrid have a vested interest in all these practitioners?
Whatever the story, the snow seems to have brought out the best and worst of Stavanger, and Yak Trax on, I am ready to ride it out. These sneaky Norwegian naprapaths may have the UN fooled, but they haven’t got me yet .You are pretty Stavanger, but you sure are deadly.
I wonder if Ikea sells crampons?