Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Cauldron of Joy

The night sky of Stavanger was swathed in an ethereal glow. Purple, pink, blue and green lights danced across the ebony backdrop of this thriving city in Rogaland County. Aurora Borealis would turn this metropolis into a larger-than-life disco. A silver-haired lady watched the Northern Lights as she drove her BMW home from work.

Pernille Boine was 63 and single. She worked at the Green Mountain Data Centre in Stavanger. As the Facility Manager, Pernille was in-charge of the up-keep of the entire data centre which housed millions of servers owned by the Information Technology giants of the world. She was a godmother to all the sensitive data that netizens uploaded to the “cloud”.

Ironically, the server farm was nothing like a cloud. It was a fortress hidden in the mountains. Green Mountain was a maze of underground tunnels that were lined with giant tubes carrying icy cold water from the Rennesøy fjord to keep the servers cool, and heavy cables to supply power. The walls were the colour of limestone and lit by white electric lights that were never switched off.

Pernille was a sincere worker. She was entitled “Employee of the Month” over a dozen times during her tenure at the data centre. Despite having a great job and a comfortable lifestyle, Pernille felt her life was incomplete.

* * *

It was a chilly December in Stavanger and she was 8. She was a feisty, young girl, always ready to rush out of her home and into the dark, frozen world outside. She loved skating on the ice. She adored her father who would hold her hand and teach her how to glide on the smooth, glassy sheet of ice.

They would drive up to Lake Stokkavannet every Saturday morning through the cold, damp darkness that made it difficult to tell the days from the nights. Stavanger stayed dark through most of the year, starting from September and persisting till February. It was only in the afternoons that the sky turned a light shade of grey to cast an eerie glow over the city.

Pernille would be layered in fleece and woollens in bright orange and yellow colours to contrast the sad tones that nature wore all winter. Her favourite red GoreTex jacket, matching red gloves and a balaclava completed her look. She loved how her skates slid over the smooth, hard ice, making neat white lines on its glossy surface. She was in a different world when she spread her arms and felt the wind lift her entire being to the vast, velvety sky. She was a Norwegian Tern when she flew across the frozen Stokkavannet Lake.

* * *

Pernille was a free spirit from the day she was born. She wasn’t one to be tied down by the bonds of life. She would always stop to smell the rare blossoms in summer. In the month of April when the snow would just begin to melt, she would search for the elusive green leaf amidst the soft, dewy snow.

She never understood why most people were afraid of the winter. She loved wintertime because that meant she could go skiing and snowboarding and make snow-figures all over their back garden which lay covered in mounds of mushy snow. She loved to count the snowflakes that drizzled by the kitchen window as she sat with a large waffle in one hand and tall glass of hot chocolate in the other.

* * *

She was 15 when her father took her for the first time to watch Den Norske Opera & Ballett perform in Oslo. It was the 16th of February and the ballet company’s maiden performance in Folketeatret in Oslo. Pernille had spent the whole evening frozen on the red velvet seat; intimidated by the colossal chandelier which hung from the centre of the ceiling, like diamonds dripping from the night sky. The lights went out as the curtains lifted to reveal ballerinas dancing to the sounds of Christmas. The music floated through the theatre like a magic spell and Pernille found herself drifting into the world of “The Nutcracker”. Her mind swayed with every twist and spun with every turn of the dancers till she was one with the melody and numb with pleasure.

* * *

In her pursuit for solitude, Pernille abandoned her boyfriend when she found out she was pregnant at 35. This was the first time she thought she was going to be chained down by domesticity. The birth of her baby boy brought more than just an extra family member- it brought an end to her carefree days.

* * *

Olav Wasseltoft was a 46 year old patissier who co-owned Den Gryten av Glede with his best friend and lover, Emil. Den Gryten av Glede was a quaint little restaurant on the Vaulen beach at Gandsfjorden. It stood on the coarse, white sand and had a pitched roof of concrete tiles.

Den Gryten av Glede, the only vegan-friendly restaurant in Stavanger, welcomed the summer through its glass walls and remained packed with tourists all day and all night. The locals who regularly lounged on the beach, swore by their Sunday brunch buffet which was a lavish spread of maple jam croissants, gravlaks, mussels steamed in white wine, tørrfisk and pickled mackerel Smørbrød.

Olav would personally plate up all the desserts which ranged from cloudberries with whipped cream, lingonberry compote and honeycake to fattigman, lefse rolled with cinnamon and strawberry-rhubarb-tapioca pudding. The restaurant also boasted a well-stocked wine library with wines all the way from Italy, France & Spain. Locally produced beer, however, remained the favourite of the patrons with bayerøl being the most frequently ordered drink.

Olav’s business partner, Emil, was 27. He was a prodigious cook with a degree in Culinary Arts from Kulinarisk Akademi and Univerity of Stavanger. He had spent 2 years backpacking across South America and another year across Europe to master exotic cuisines.

Emil had spent most of his childhood living in a two-storey bungalow in a posh cul-de-sac with his mother, whom he only saw on weekends. His mother would burn the candle at both ends to provide for her only son. She did not want him to lose out on the pleasures that the income of two working parents could provide.

Emil was only 5 when he discovered his love for food and 13 when he discovered his love for the male species.

He was lucky to be gay in Norway, a country with a progressive mind and an open heart. But his happiness was short-lived as he soon learned that his staunch Christian mother disapproved of his sexual orientation.

* * *

Emil had hair the colour of fresh snow and blue eyes that shone like sapphire. His aquiline nose and perpetual smile attracted many girls in his high school and he was often asked out on dates. He was never keen on seeing any of them. Nevertheless, he would agree so he could taste the high-octane nightlife of Stavanger.

The Land of the midnight Sun lived up to its name as its inhabitants danced through the night at sprawling clubs that played Røyksopp and Bel Canto till the wee hours of the morning. It was at the discos where Emil felt most at home. He made many friends who accepted and understood his way of life and introduced him to the “other” meaning of gay- Joy.

* * *

Emil and Olav had met at the Gladmat Festival, Scandinavia's largest food festival in July when they were sampling pultost cheese with grovbrød as they sipped from cups of karsk. It was love at first sight. They had spent the entire evening talking about their passion for cooking, their addiction to Gaarder, Hamsun and Fossum, and their weakness for Krumkakes.

In the months that followed their serendipitous meeting, they started seeing each other regularly. They would head to HoT Open Mind or Alf & Werner for dancing, to SF Kino for the latest movies and go hiking around Stavanger when they could take some days off work. It was after 3 years and 4 months of courtship that Olav proposed marriage to Emil.

* * *

Emil knew it was time he paid a visit to his aging mother. He hadn’t been back to his old home since the day he left for university. He believed love and longing would have softened her heart and time would have erased the difficult memories. Emil knew it was wrong of him to desert his mother only because of her orthodox stand on gay relationships. He could not neglect the fact that she had singlehandedly brought him up and made him the fine man he was today.

He could feel a lump forming in his throat as he drove by the familiar lush, green fields in his lemon-yellow electric car. He drove past the old church that he visited with his mother every Sunday morning. His grandfather had often told him that his mother was like a free bird, always ready to fly. He never fully understood why she had changed so much after the pregnancy.

Emil pulled up outside the large wooden bungalow that had been his home for 18 years. The burgundy painted exterior, the porch swing on the balcony, the potted gladiolas on the patio- everything was just as he had left it. He rang the doorbell and stood waiting for what seemed like eternity.

Pernille Boine answered the door wearing a beige apron over her magenta dress. The mother and son duo stood motionless in front of each other as their eyes slowly welled up. Pernille drew Emil Boine to her bosom and cried till she felt all the pain wash away.

* * *

During all her years of solitude, Pernille had found her life clouded with loneliness. She searched for joy in her weekend trips to the fjords and lakes in Stavanger. But she realized that those places would no longer be the same without love. In her childhood, she could love everything about her life only because she had her father to love and was loved in return. But after the birth of Emil, her restrictive and conformist ways resulted in alienating both her son and her power to attract happiness.

It was only after she saw his radiant face that she fully understood what her life had been missing all those years- Love. And love was the secret ingredient that could complete lives and sprinkle them with Joy.

She understood then that it was not important whether she loved a man or a woman, but whether she had unadulterated, unconditional love for that person.

* * *

Pernille Boine was an ecstatic mother-in-law to Olav Wasseltoft and a proud mother to Emil Wasseltoft. She had taken a liking to Den Gryten av Glede and knew that it would soon be her favourite restaurant in Stavanger, not least because her son and son-in-law ran it.

Pernille started living her life to the fullest, just as she did as a child. She retired from Green Mountain and spent all her days trying new things. She would go canoeing on some days and parasailing on others. She would sing in the bathroom and hum when she cooked. And when the coast was clear, she would sneak Olav’s handmade krumkakes and wink to herself. It was after she licked the last crumb off her plate that she appreciated why the place was called Den Gryten av Glede- The Cauldron of Joy!