Wednesday I couldn’t stop beaming. Even if the corners of my lips weren’t curled upward, I felt like my whole being was smiling one of those smiles you feel when you’re living one of your dreams.
At breakfast, the weather app showed a little sun emoticon. The recent non-stop rain makes the yellow sun emoji a happy way to start the day. I pulled an old bike with slightly flat tires out from the garage, and admired the grey-pink sky as I rode up and down hills trying not to think of my tired leg muscles.
I arrived at a cozy white barn adorned with blue doors and a tree covered in twinkling Christmas lights. Ever since I was a six year old standing in front of that barn, a ceramics studio, holding a Japanese paper umbrella (I can picture the scene, but unfortunately the photos are tucked away in moving boxes on the other side of the world), I hoped to learn to make pottery from Anne Marit, an artist that lives here in Norway. She makes some of the most beautiful pottery I've seen. Her artwork is influenced by both Japanese ceramic traditions and Norwegian nature.
After a tour of the studio, we went to her workshop where I watched her rapid and precise wedging and throwing techniques, which are not as easy as they look, and tried to remember every detail. It’s evident that she has years of experience and it has been five years since I last sat at a potters wheel, and two years since I played with clay to make a life-sized bust.
I learned the Japanese character 安 An means peace in Kanji. I’m not quite sure why Anne Marit chose it as my first Japanese word, but I think An describes the inner feeling that comes from sitting at the potters wheel, away from cell phones and laptops, with only the sound of quiet music and the potters bat spinning in circles.
The Japanese CD we listened to was one she heard playing in a used bookstore in Japan; it a sounded much like music you would imagine in a French cafe. In my attempt to find the music online, I found one of the songs from the album, and I also learned about a different fascinating music style called Shibuya Kei, a Japanese music genre combining jazz, pop, Bossa Nova and synth.
Eventually we took a break to drink Sencha tea and eat chocolate on the ledge of the Japanese tea house that fills the center of the barn. The tea leaves were a dark emerald color with a flavor grassier and fresher than most green teas I’ve tasted. We talked about tea steeping methods as the tea leaves left a sediment in the crevices of the swirl in the bottom of the tea cup. Green tea can taste completely different depending on food pairing and brewing temperature. We also looked at Japanese books about foods, desserts, artwork made from old kimonos. And, once my cup was empty, I tried on a red and white silk kimono that makes your jaw drop in admiration of the detailed handwork.
Later in the evening, as I sat at the wheel, amazing smells came from the kitchen. Anne Marit prepared a dinner from Japan right in her studio. The table was covered in all sorts of little ceramic plates with different flavors. When we sat down to eat, we each had a bamboo tray with warm towels for washing our hands before our meal.
We started with fried salmon bites paired with rice balls that were topped with with carrots cutouts in the shape of baby rabbits. Next, we ate a vegetable dish — fried zucchini squash topped with crunchy spiced mini ramen. Then we had fried sweet potato slices and miso soup (which was the most difficult to manage with chopsticks). My tummy was already singing happy songs by the time we started on the cucumber salmon sushi, which was made with warm rice and fresh, cold salmon. When there was no more room for sushi, we drank brown tea and ate fried apples drizzled with maple syrup.
The day was an entirely unexpected treat. It couldn’t have been better. We talked about culture and language and design. I learned quite a bit about ceramics and about Japan. Which left me hoping that someday I will have the opportunity to travel there.
For now, experiencing a huge taste of Japan here in Norway was a piece of aesthetic, cultural, and foodie heaven. The rain showers couldn’t wipe away the smile I had when I stepped outside into a stormy Norwegian evening.