I fell in love with Scandinavia one country at a time; Denmark first, then Sweden, Norway, and Finland. I never made it to Iceland. Among the four countries I visited over the years, it was Norway that stole my heart. Oslo alone is worth the journey. It boasts of Grieg, Ibsen, Munch, and Vigeland. In contrast to Munch’s early depressing paintings, Vigeland’s sculptures in Oslo’s Sculpture Garden are life assuring to the point of being comical.
My husband and I traveled from Oslo to Bergen, and up the fjords to Stavanger. It was the summer solstice. People were dancing in the streets at midnight—three months of glorious light, followed by months of depressing darkness!
Fortunately, the glory of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland can be experienced right in New York at Scandinavia House on Park Avenue, between 36th & 37th Street.
Entering the building, the first thing you see is their restaurant, called Smörgås Chef. To give the illusion of being outdoors, a massive tree sits smack in the dining room. In addition, there is a long white bar counter. The open kitchen opposite the bar allows guests to look at the chefs at work.
If Smörgås Chef were in my neighborhood, I would become an habitué for their Herring Quartet and 72-Hour Aquavit Cured Gravlax alone. Their Lingonberry Juice too, could become habit forming. Available as an Appetizer and Entrée, their Swedish Meatballs dish – made with pork & grass-fed beef, mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage, lingonberries, and grädd sauce, (a crème based gravy)- is a best seller. Salmon Burger, served medium rare as I had requested, is only served for lunch. Smörgås Burger, also served at dinner, is another matter. In fact, its Scandinavian claim rests on the Danish Blue Cheese and Jarlsberg Cheese, which originated in Norway ages ago.
During the holiday season Smörgås Chef offers an extravagant Julbord (literally “Christmas Table”) that has to be ordered and paid for in advance.
Being a Scandinavia-phile, I enjoy the concerts featuring Sibelius and Grieg. I missed the movies shown at The Nordic International Film Festival. Most films were in Finnish with English subtitles. [If you want to learn Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, you can take one of their language courses.]
However, when it comes to Munch, no language is needed. Looking at his early paintings at the Munch Museum in Oslo, I understood his despair. His mother and his sister died of tuberculosis; and his father made him feel guilty. Leaving for Paris and Berlin, Munch adopted the Bohemian life style and soon became known for his paintings, prints and watercolors.
Years later, Munch became interested in photography. Scandinavia House exhibit The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography, is the first showing of the painter’s genre in the United States.
The exhibit coincides with Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed, on view at the MetBreuer museum.
Holiday cheers at Scandinavia House start in early December. I was curious about a Sunday afternoon concert, called St. Lucia Day, the festival of light. According to the pre-Gregorian calendar, it took place decades ago, on December 13—which happened to have been the longest night.
Warm and snug in New York, my grandson Luke and I went to Scandinavia House to watch the traditional St. Lucia celebration. Following the history of the saint, members of the Swedish Church Choir entered with traditional gowns, carrying glowing candles.
To Luke’s surprise, one of them wore a crown of candles on her head. Some of their songs sounded familiar. Many people in the audience chimed in. The choir left the way they had arrived. The candles were still lit.