Sunday, July 19, 2009 -- 5:30pm
My oldest friend from childhood and her two youngest children have just returned to England after spending four delightful days with us here on Tjome.
One would imagine such an encounter to be slightly awkward, if one considers that we have spent very little more than a couple of days with each other since we were friends at Oxford, or since I moved to Los Angeles. Our correspondence has been sporadic, and we have missed key dates in each other's lives (my shameful missing of her wedding being the first -- the excuse being something utterly ridiculous and yet seemingly important at the time; the company I worked for wouldn't let me have the time off) and we have not been there to watch each other's children grow, or fathers die. She knew my father best of all my friends, having been a constant guest at Tom's Hill, our friendship weathering the thick school we were both sent to, our teenage love of punk music and then new wave (she is still the hugest Elvis Costello fan I know and knew all the words to I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea while everyone else was still fannying around the Common Room to (I Wonder Why) He's the Greatest Dancer). She broke a bone on my pony, remembers when my eldest sister was sent in to check on us when we were reported absent at the Marlborough Secretarial (oh yes, my father insisted, gels had to have something to fall back on so for a year we were both forced to learn how to type and take shorthand dictation), reminds me of tripping through Christchurch Meadow when we should have been in a lecture, and was there when I met my husband on his junior year abroad at Oxford and somehow by luck or kismet we'd both found ourselves in an Aristotelian philosophy tutorial. In fact had it not been for Vivien's wry suggestion "Oh come on, let's go check out the latest American talent" at our college I may still have been living in England married to a dull stockbroker or a farmer or a chap with a very large country house and a disgusting nose-picking habit.
But, as luck and the Gods would have it, we sank into a lovely, easy rhythm with each other. She is as blonde and beautiful and glamorous and funny as she was at 19, and her children are erudite and amusing, which is, one has to admit, a relief.
"Don't you remember that we went nightclubbing on Tjome last time we were here together darling?" she asked. "Wouldn't it be fun to do that again." We would be, without any exaggeration, Patsy and Edina: The leggy blonde one, the curly-haired zany one, the two bottles of Bolli, lusting after younger Norwegian men. We find ourselves bent double imagining ourselves this way, while her children admonish her for being childish.
Instead we build a picnic of cheese, tomatoes, salami, fresh French bread, ham, hard-boiled eggs and Kaviar (Norwegian smoked cod's roe paste -- heaven in a tube), of fizzy orange sodas, and large Mother-sized bags stuffed with sunglasses, suncream, towels for ourselves and our children, extra jerseys, a fleece, bikinis and head off on a two-boat adventure to the Mink Island, the Nordahl-Ward family's very favorite island in the Oslofjord. An island so steeped with legend that we forget who had seen the mink and when or when my grandmother found the chanterelles and who had slipped on which rock and who had the biggest jellyfish sting and whether Uncle Tom was drunk that particular day or later and who had found the flat rock we now use as a picnic table and when the mussels found in the channel are the best. There are four adults and four children and a dog. The dog belongs to my Viking cousin, a strapping blonde who beats us at Scrabble and stores brilliant facts and figures in his head (which country, other than Vatican City, is completely surrounded by another country?).
Landing is the usual hoopla. We are late. Of course. We have overslept. There was a miscommunication the night before, over dinner, when too much red wine was consumed, about the time of our departure, but finally in the boats and on the sea, the salty air in our hair, the glinting sun on the blue waves, all is well with the earth. Clever Norwegians who like to sunbathe naked have taken the best landing spots on the island and so we traverse east, past the Black Rock to where we know of a secret quiet bay, a shallow channel that may be able to hold two boats, if we tie our boats together and throw out an anchor to secure them. The rocks are steep on each side, like gray whales, shaped by glaciers. At the end of the channel is an iron stake, forced into a crack in the rock by another kind seafarer maybe a century ago. This is where we intend to tie our boats. And we struggle with blue and green ropes, Jumby poking at the rocks with an oar as I pull the boats towards the tying place. The picnic is unloaded and life-jacketed children and dogs scamper about the warm rocks. The dog is quite giddy with joy, leaping over sea cabbages and water-rounded pebbles, up and down the granite eager to find a vantage point.
Even the teenage girls, who find this adventure desperately un-cool can't control the smiles spread over their faces as we begin the search for the perfect picnic spot. "Oh God" says Minky and turns her head towards me, her hand over her eyes. "What, darling?" I ask her. "Just don't look that way" she says. "That man. Is. Naked." "Oh well the Norwegians like to be nude, it's part of their culture" I say, "don't you think it's rather nice that they can lie out here on this island in the sun in the middle of the sea and not worry about a thing like clothes?" "Uh, no" she says, without hesitation. "It's Gross."
A spot was picked out for lunch on top of the island, surrounded by lichen and raspberries, and after we'd feasted on our table made from a towel (the usual picnic place having been commandeered by an early-rising Viking), we moved to a favorite place at the South end of the island, from whence you can see the Lighthouse, Faerder Fyr. A tiny set of rocky islands is set apart from the coast by a band of water and here there are pools of warm water. "Are they really hot?" asked George, who is eleven. "Well, no, not really. But compared to the sea they're boiling," I tell him. The hazardous journey to the blissful warm pools includes avoiding jellyfish and pulling oneself up by the seaweed on the barnacled rocks on the other side but once there you can bathe in the spa water and lie on heated rocks, staring up at the sky, warmed by the sun. If you blink, you can see vague outlines of sailing boats in the background, or the imposing lighthouse or a flutter of seabirds. But there is no reason to blink here or to think of anything much but the sound of the waves.