Once Again I Will be Kolbjørn Landvik

Decent people worldwide treat the transformation of one year to the next with a sense of—what—appreciation, reverence, hopefulness, anticipation…expectation. I suspect deviant monsters, too, treat the change with the same emotions. But they are not worthy of my words, are they? No, they are not, so I shan’t bother with them. The decent people, though—the people with whom I would share my home and the food on my table even if they do not speak my language or share my skepticism or my intellectual curiosity about the universe in which we live—are worthy of my words. So I shall dedicate this post to them, the good people who want nothing more than to live and let live and who cherish humanity in every sense of the word.

My way of embracing people across cultures and across time is through food. Food connects us all because all of us need food to sustain our lives. True, we have different tastes in food, but all of us must have it in some form. As we approach the conclusion of an unspeakably ugly year, the foods we eat to welcome the next year, one we hope will be immeasurably better, are on my mind. This morning, I read an article about food customs around the globe that welcome in the new year. In Mexico, as I know and you do as well, I presume, tamales are the food of choice to celebrate Christmas eve and beyond. On New Year’s Eve, tamales and menudo are the thing; I still haven’t been able to embrace menudo, despite many attempts. I may do it again. Also in Mexico, though more so in Spain, the tradition is to welcome the new year by eating twelve grapes, one for each toll of the clock’s bell; some people peel the grapes in advance for reasons unknown to me. And in Scandinavian countries, pickled herring welcome the transformation of one year to the next. I could get into that; I love pickled herring. In fact, I believe I must have Scandinavian genes in my body. It’s possible I was adopted or switched at birth with a youngster by the name of Kolbjørn Landvik. I’ve written about Kolbjørn before. He and I share many attributes, which is natural inasmuch as we are the same person, just in different times and in different places. He and I absolutely love the taste of pickled herring. And we love feeling the salt spray on our face as we sail into the cold wind in search of good fishing spots and ourselves.

Kolbjørn Landvik and I share another attribute. We’re both enamored of the French phrase, “le jeu n’en vaut pas la chandelle,” and its English translation, “the game is not worth the candle.” Something about the phrase causes tears to well up in our eyes. Hearing or reading the phrase causes the deep sadness sleeping in our chests to rise from its slumber and overtake our consciousness. We weep, Kolbjørn and I, and we struggle to understand why it seems at times that we, alone, grieve for the world we wish for, the world that never was but should have been.

The story I started to tell, the story of my doppelgänger (AKA dobbeltgjenger)/sameself, is evidence of the power of food. At least to me/us.  Food allows us to create new futures. We celebrate the changes we wish or hope to see through food. At no time of year is that more evident than that time in which the calendar allows us to send one year into history and welcome a fresh, new, unsullied one into the present. Oh, I’ve said before that New Year’s Day is no more a new beginning than any other day. And it’s not. But because many of us choose to treat it as a new opportunity for a new future, it is. On the one hand, January first is no different from any other day of the year; any day can become our New Year beginning. But on the other, because so many people treat January first as a new beginning, the day is irrevocably special. And we celebrate its unique ability to allow us to start anew with food.

Oddly enough, this celebratory event often is marked by overt gluttony, followed immediately by self-imposed starvation as a means of atoning for an entire year of over-indulgence. I am among those who will begin the new year, in a matter of days, by making a lifestyle change that I hope will return me to the svelte, chiseled body I had when I was a thirty-year-old well-muscled Norwegian man struggling to haul my catch of herring from the open ocean to a protected harbor.  The problem with this entire scenario, of course, is that my body belongs to a sixty-four-year-old American man whose body never was, nor will ever be, svelte, chiseled, or well-muscled. The lips on this body have never spoken fluent Norwegian, nor have the arms attached to this body ever hauled herring except from the grocery store to my home. That having been said, I may have found my solution; I can write my way to handsome youth. That’s right, just as I’ve written about Kolbjørn Landvik’s youth, I can write about my own transformation. While writing my way to greater physical height may be beyond my capability, I should be able to write my way to a loss of forty pounds, shouldn’t I? I should, indeed. Will I? Only time will tell. By December 31, 2018, I should have a reasonably good idea of whether I’ve succeeded. In the interim, I’m going to continue my love affair with food, just (I hope) not to the degree I’ve done so in the past year. Yeah. Right. I’ve promised myself before that I’d lose weight, get more exercise, and become a better person. At least I may have become a better person? By next December, if I’m not more like Kolbjørn Landvik, I’ll be disappointed in myself. Better start working on my Norwegian.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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