Oslo in June is a wonderful place. Clouds scud across a cobalt sky and the harbor is thronged with boats, tourists, and the smell of lilacs. After months of Arctic winter grey, the city is stretching itself awake in the midnight sun. You stay up long after sunset at 11pm, wrapped in a blanket at a harborside cafe.
And there in a shop window, was the perfect souvenir–a row of blue and white spice jars with names of spices in Norwegian, looking like an Italian-worded set that my grandmother had. I imagined them in a row on my counter at home, their blue letters proclaiming my adventurousness. Every time I’d look at them I’d remember both Oslo in June and my grandmother’s kitchen.
But mostly I’d be looking at pottery shards in a soft-sided suitcase.
So I passed them up and I’m still kicking myself. Those little jars captured what Norway meant: the bluest sky in the world, the freshness of energy of a reborn place, an unexpected reminder of my grandmother. And my kitchen really needed that final touch; something to go with the salad tongs from Kenya, coffee mugs from England, corkscrew from Australia, the framed menu from my Paris student days, the olive cutting board from Greece, and a truly antique Delft tile I couldn’t afford, another from the tram stop at Binnenwatersloot where for once I wasn’t lost, a tiny ceramic square from Rome inscribed with the blessing Pace e Bene.
A fourth tile hangs on the wall. Hardly a prized antique, it’s a mass-produced tile with a color picture of a woman and child walking next to a walled village with “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” written on the bottom. I got it in an antiques shop in Virginia, in a box labelled “odd cups.”
It took me back to the medieval village of Rothenburg, to a 1981 trip my mother and I took to West Germany and Austria. We embraced the beverages, the food, the architecture, the people, and the fine bed-and-breakfast establishments recommended by the publishers of Let’s Go Europe. We climbed an Alp. rode a cable car, listened to Mozart in Salzburg, sang in the biergartens, and mourned at Dachau. And bought not one sourvenir.
So years later, I found myself paying the outrageous price of $12 for a chipped tile and exulting over such a bargain. Of couse I called my mother and she laughed as we remembered the beer, the wursts, and the rest of the trip. I smile every time I see that tile, knowing what a bond it represents.
The kitchen is the heart of the home. Maybe that’s why so much of my kitchen tools are souvenirs from my travels.
Bene e Pace
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