Oslo, Norway – After the emotional tribute to his wife Grete at yesterday’s memorial service at Bislett Stadium all Jack Waitz was in search of tonight was a quiet dinner. And so on a commodius spring evening in the Norwegian capital, Jack met me at my city center hotel from which we walked a short distance north before hopping an Oslo city bus to the St. Hanshaugen neighborhood a few kilometers away. Once there we disembarked at Restaurant Schroder, a tidy neighborhood joint with a dark wood interior.
“Schroder’s is one of the city’s old-fashioned ‘brown restaurants’,” Jack explained as the bus pulled away leaving a plume of diesel exhaust.
So-called ‘brown restaurants’ are those which have held firm against the wave of renovations sweeping Oslo, while still serving traditional, inexpensive Norwegian fare. Then again, with the kroner-to-dollar exchange rate hovering around five-to-one, inexpensive is a relative term for any Yank in Norway.
When we walked in one of the current co-owners, a Pakistani native named Ali, greeted us warmly — seems Jack and Grete’s older brother Jan Anderson are frequent patrons. Jack introduced me, and told Ali I was an American interested in history.
“Would you like to try our most popular dish?” offered Ali.
“Schroder’s is featured in Jo Nesbo’s crime fiction series,” Jack continued as we sat, speaking of the internationally popular Norwegian author. “His main character, Harry Hole, is a policeman who hangs out in Schroder’s and is a bit of a drunk.”
Nesbo’s eight work canon includes titles like The Devil’s Star, Nemesis, The Redbreast, and The Phantom which had just been published this spring. Nesbo is being touted as the next Stieg Larrson, the best-selling Swedish author behind the Millennium series of detective novels like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With Nesbo’s books growing in readership, business at Schroder’s has jumped markedly.
Minutes later Ali returned with a plate of Stekt Flesk Og Duppe, translation: Less Salted Side Flesh, which looked like thick slices of bacon served with white sauce, mashed turnips and potatoes. The name alone had dusted my pallet a tad, but I looked down at the plate nonetheless with an open heart. Then I looked up at Jack. Then I assumed Grete had never dined at Schroder’s –- nor often allowed Jack to. I also began to understand why policeman Harry Hole had begun drinking. Notwithstanding, according to Ali this dish made up 60% — 70% of his business.
After finishing our beers — but not the less salted side flesh — we walked a few blocks up to Albertine’s, a confusingly named restaurant serving Indian fare. There we ordered our dinner, including two more beers. But when the young waiter returned, he carried on his tray what looked like two magnums of champagne. Fortunately, the bottles, though resembling champagne, contained nothing but thirst-slaking lager.
After an excellent curry dinner we walked casually back to my Royal Christiana Hotel in city center, passing through narrow city streets and an urban college campus along the way. Jack said he would return tomorrow morning for us to go visit the golf course he helped design and build outside town.
In the 1990s Niles Fearnley was an All-American javelin thrower and school record holder (244’8”) for the USC Trojans. It was there that he met his American wife Cindy, herself a swim star from Minnesota. After graduation they returned to his native Norway to take control of Nils family’s large land holdings in Hakadal, 33 kilometers north of Oslo.
In 2000 Nils and Jack began collaborating on the planning then building of the Hakadal Golf Club on Nils property outside Oslo. When the club opened in 2005 there were 200 members. Today, that number has swelled to 1600.
The Aas Gaard Farm itself, and its 18-hole golf club, sprawls out over 30,000 acres of spruce covered hills overlooking snow covered ski runs. The farm is one of the oldest and most traditional in the area, and has 70 roofed structures on it.
A large man with a robust sense of humor, and a pension for chewing tobacco, Nils was welcoming his new $150,000 Toro lawn mower as we arrived. Standing well over six feet tall and weighing in at 235 pounds, Nils said he was installing a workout room as part of the major rehab he is doing on the family’s 1760 manor house. It had only one previous renovation, that back in 1860.
”I need to get some muscle back on my frame,” he said patting his belly. “When I was at USC I weighed 275, and they kept trying to recruit me for the Trojan football team. But with my track scholarship that wasn’t allowed.”
Nils teasing masked a pain he shared with Jack. He, too, had recently lost his wife to cancer. Cindy Makens Fearnley died this January at age 38 while visiting her parents in San Diego. The couple have two young children, a boy five and a girl eight.
A tour of Nils’ family home revealed an old-world elegance and charm. In the main foyer was a bust of Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose exploits were funded by the Fearnley family.
Hanging in all the rooms were a series of old paintings. One dated from the 14th century, while others, by some of Norway’s finest artists, were donated to the estate by the artists who were supported after World War II at Aas Gaard Farm when there were no painting supplies or studios anywhere to be found in wake of the German occupation. Today, the paintings those artists left to the family for its kindness are priceless.
With dinner plans to attend to, we thanked Nils for the tour, promised to return for a round on the rolling 5732-meter layout at a future date, and drove back to Oslo.
Along the way Jack took me to the Keiseirlokka (Kaiser Field) neighborhood where Grete had grown up with her older brothers Jan and Arild.
Today, Kaiser Field is a quiet working class neighborhood, but in the post-war years it was bustling with children, an idyllic place for a child to grow. Nearby stood Hasle Lutheran Church where Jack and Grete were married in 1975.
“She was the only girl in the family,” Jack explained. ”And her mother, Reidun, ran a tight ship. Grete was given all the tasks in the house. They made her take piano lessons, and they weren’t too enthusiastic about her running, because it wasn’t considered a girlish thing to do.”
It was exactly that type of girls-staying-in-their-place attitude that Grete’s running exploits help turn around for future generations of Norwegian girls.
Tonight we will meet up with Grete’s brother Jan for dinner at a restaurant near the Royal Palace that Grete, herself, enjoyed. I assume we won’t be ordering the Stekt Flesh Og Duppe.