It’s been a long time since I watched Lilyhammer on Netflix. And a long time since I moved to Norway myself. It was not a crash-landing as rough as that experienced by protagonist “Johnny”, the alter ego of an American mobster, Frank Tagliano, who goes into witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway after testifying against his cronies. Knowing the reach of the mob and relying on his love for the “Lilyhammer” Olympics (most of us just remember the Tonya Harding–Nancy Kerrigansaga), Frank manages to get his witness protection assignment in Lillehammer, Norway – which turns out to be a major culture shock not just for him but for everyone he encounters in the community. That includes the police force, social services, his new girlfriend, the hospital system… and everyone else.
He makes a strange bunch of new friends/colleagues, opens a new nightclub and changes the rules to suit him. Through manipulation and brute force, he pushes through quite a lot of his own brand of corruption, intimidation and coercion to impose on the naive, fairness-loving Norwegians. He also forces the residents to look in the mirror (e.g., an episode that deals with racism, refugees and “inclusion” – which is timely now during the recent refugee crisis). Frank can be insensitive and totally politically incorrect (and sexist), but has his own sense of fairness that comes from living in a multicultural society – even if a very limited one like the mob – and this rubs off on everyone around him and comes full circle until he starts to realize new truths about himself as well.
But no experience leaves you unchanged. While the Norwegians eventually bend and comply – and learn – from Frank’s ways, Frank too is softened by Norwegian life.
Lilyhammer was cancelled, so no more of the fun we got for three seasons… but luckily three seasons is an easy binge watch.
I have previously written about the Souk Market in Charlottenberg in Sweden – a tiny town with a whole lot of very large supermarkets, mostly catering to Norwegians who cross the border to buy stuff in bulk. I had not been there in a while, but I planned to make a recipe that required pomegranate molasses (Persian pomegranate and lamb meatball soup).
Considering that I can’t find normal molasses most of the time, the idea that pomegranate molasses could be had (with multiple brand and container-sizer options) in the smallest of towns in rural Sweden seemed laughable. But having been to – and been overwhelmed by – the Souk Market before, I knew it represented my best chance. Imagine my delight when I found an entire section of the store filled with different kinds of molasses, including pomegranate as well as carob and grape, among others. Amazing.
pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market
Check out John Oliver‘s new gig on HBO – in the inaugural episode, he goes on a pomegranate-related tirade.
The Värmland region of Sweden is a place that seems to fill its residents with a considerable amount of regional pride. People who don’t live in or aren’t from Värmland often echo the feeling that Värmland is the most amazing place, that it would be “like a dream” to live there, and that it embodies what many consider to be “the real Sweden”. Sort of smack in the middle of everything, Värmland is mostly rural, its largest city – the virtually unheard-of (outside Sweden) Karlstad (except for IKEA furniture named after the city) is uniquely placed at a near-equidistance from the Nordic holy trinity of Stockholm, Oslo and Gothenburg. Värmland is not known for city life, of course. It’s the landsbygd – truly rural and in many ways untouched. For those who love nature, Värmland is it.
And it seems to me (in my very few years as a Värmlander myself) that Värmlanders (current and former) bond with each other – in a similar way to how people who come from a small town and meet somewhere else, far away, do. Even though Värmland is a big place and coming from the eastern edge is not totally the same as coming from the far west on the border with Norway (life there, which is where I call home, has been affected by an influx of both Norwegians and their massive border shopping centers) people connected to Värmland do seem to consider it home forever – long after they leave to put down permanent roots elsewhere. There is a sense of pride and identification with the place that people from Värmland adopt – and transplants, like me, fiercely take on. I feel protective and proud about Värmland for some really inexplicable reason. Maybe just because living here has given me the kind of inner peace that I did not really imagine ever having. I never felt at home anywhere, but Värmland is home. As exotic and wonderful as my “native stomping grounds” – Hawaii – is, Värmland is home. I spent most of my formative years in the lovely and diverse Seattle and surrounding environs. But Värmland is home. Yes, Sweden is home, but more than that, Värmland is home. When you meet Swedes, they may tell you they came from “some small town but now live in Stockholm” or will introduce themselves using the city they currently live in. But when you meet a Värmlander, it’s almost a guarantee that s/he will self-identify as a Värmlander (if their värmlandska language does not give them away! Even those who have long left Värmland still consider themselves proud Värmlanders – you can take the Värmlander out of Värmland but not Värmland from the Värmlander). The regional identity assumes almost equal importance to the national identity, and I have not noticed this anywhere in Sweden as I have among Värmlanders.
Heading into the long Easter weekend, I drove home and felt a growing sense of relief, contentment and pride once I crossed into Värmland. Happy.