Monday, March 4, 2013

Swedish Institute: Sámi to You

Way back when, looking at a scale model of the planned addition to the American Swedish Institute in its little Plexiglas case, I always imagined it would contain exhibition halls that would free the Turnblad Mansion to be just what it is—a mansion. Evidently I didn’t look very closely.

Exhibits are still being mounted in the mansion’s rooms and corridors. But perhaps the addition has given the Institute something even better—a café. I’m not sure why they located the café in the lobby of the new building, but it lends a pleasant bustle to the place, both for those who have come for lunch and for those who’ve come to see an exhibit or take a class. The food is consistently better than average. It’s the kind of food that elicits gustatory double-takes. There are invariably flavors behind or above or in the midst of other flavors.

We stopped in the other day with friends to see the exhibit Eight Seasons of Sápmi, The Last of the Sámi People. But we paid a visit to café first. I ordered the pork belly and cabbage soup, followed by a fried cod smorga with onions, grapefruit, and remolade. Very tasty stuff, and it hardly seemed to matter when it occurred to me they’d forgotten to include the fish. Hilary pointed to a big brown ball on one corner of the toast.

“There’s the cod,” she said.

“Oh, I thought that was a potato!”

Other things on offer include white asparagus with house-cured gravlax, smoked almonds, pine syrup & shallot emulsion; fingerling potatoes in a creamy herb sauce, capers & anchovy; juniper-spiced meatballs with potato purée, cucumber, lingonberry & mustard sauce…and these are just a few of the side dishes.

We wrapped up the meal with coffee and a few ginger cookies and went down the hall to the exhibit.

The Sámi people have been living north of the Arctic Circle for centuries, if not millennia, herding reindeer back and forth from summer to winter pastures without leaving much of a trace. The exhibit consisted of various articles of clothing, hand-made tools, hide bags, woven belts, and other stuff, along with photos both historic and contemporary and two very interesting films. One showed a bunch of teenagers getting drunk and racing around on their snowmobiles. The other followed the reindeer herd and showed the perils of traveling cross-country in winter, among other things.

I noticed on one of the display posters that the Sámi  have eight seasons rather than four. We Minnesotans could probably put a few to good use.

Gidáddálvve is when there’s still snow on the ground but the sun begins to shine more brightly. Gidá is spring pure and simple. Then there comes the one we in Minnesota get so much of. Gidágeisse refers to the period when there’s warmer weather but still no greenery—but no mosquitoes either.

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