Dinner by a Fjord
A story of a meal made by strangers and eaten by friends
I was still sweating from the sauna — the sole activity in the all-white picturesque bed-and-breakfast in a small Norwegian town. It was a wet and cold summer day, eliminating my schedule’s only possible activity, hiking. So instead, I’d spent the last half hour in the single-person wooden box perched on the edge of a fjord with a backdrop of dark clouds and luminous mountains. I gazed through the glass window at the children jumping into the cold water despite the downpouring rain. There were six of them, siblings. I learned this because I met their mother earlier that morning.
On my way up to the kitchen, I had passed one of their rooms and heard the father sharing the disappointing news that hiking would not be possible that day, followed by a collection of whines. As I made my way upstairs, I walked by a few other guests sipping their coffee and chatting on the sofa in the rustic-designed living area, and I entered the kitchen. The mother was there with the seventh on her hip, one or two years old maybe, and was making breakfast. I learned they were from Ohio, and this was a family vacation. My eyes may have widened in thinking how in the world did they travel here with seven children?
I told her I was on my own, loved hiking, and this was always a place I wanted to visit. Her returned expression was both fascinated and worried — the kind you give someone who tells you they just skydived or ate expired sushi and survived. It was not an unfamiliar look for me. I had received it from my mother over facetime a few months prior when I told her I booked a solo trip to Norway. The mother told me she was impressed and hoped her eldest daughter could travel alone someday.
Now, sitting across from her daughter, mid-conversation, I saw a hint of a younger me in her. She craved adventure and, as the eldest, took on a lot of child-caring responsibilities. Although I couldn’t relate on that front, I had an overwhelming desire for her to experience the travels I had. I hoped she would one day embark on a similar adventure.
Two childhood friends from France sat to my right at the long light-stained wooden table. They told me they had driven here, all the way from northern France. It was their post-college road trip. And not only that, they put my adventurous personality to shame, sharing they had made no plans. One day, they had simply ended up here. I was quite the opposite. I had it planned for months, every detail from the bus I took to get here, this remote town, and the lodge where we were all guests.
I took a bite of the steamy smooth, gravy-covered meatballs, turned my gaze to the hosts at the end of the table, and thanked them for the meal. They were a young, incredibly tall, stunning couple with an equally beautiful greyhound. Dinner wasn’t supposed to be part of the experience, but the dim, wet day had kept all of us inside. So, the hosts had gone around asking each guest if they’d like to have a big meal together — me, the 25-year-old single woman, a British couple with a young son, the large American family, the French friends, the young Swiss couple, and the hosts. Of course, we all agreed, and we all helped.
I chopped the various root vegetables with a few of the adults, while the kids assisted in rolling meatballs with the hosts, the Frenchmen made some appetizers and bought the wine, and all the while, the hosts educated us on the local cuisine.
The kitchen was a small narrow space, too small for all of us. So we had to set up across the long dining table. There was no heating, so the fireplace at one end was lit up, keeping us warm, along with wool blankets the hosts had passed around.
It was on seats around that table we all now chatted, laughed, and ate the meal we had made as strangers but which had made us friends. When English wasn’t sufficient to communicate, we smiled, nodded, and moved our hands to tell our story. And we moaned when taking a bite, showing gratitude for the food and the presence of those who made it.