THEODOR’S – THE FAMILY TABLE OF SMILES
Written and illustrated by A.B. Dance
Ahh…food. We are to meet Sonja Beja, the sweet young lady who originally invited my wife and I to Bromarv. She suggested Theodor’s, a restaurant at the village center. There we are to share with her our first ten days adventures.
We walked into Theodor’s and discovered it very engaging and spacious. Stepping up two steps to our right, another dining area opened filled with perfect spaced tables and chairs welcoming us to join the crowd. Looking right, a row of large windows ran the entire wall of the restaurant, letting in sun and sky bouncing light off everyone and everything they touched.
On the left, a wall of tables full of hot dishes tempt the hungry: fish, beef, chicken, pork and even reindeer at times, all seasoned in exotic spices greeting your nose.
Hot pancakes with their brown freckled faces smiled back as you lift the heating pans. They call out to your imagination. “Taste me, I will make your tongue jump out of your mouth, and with a bit of my brother’s jam and whipped cream, a loud long Mmmm, will flow from your soul.”
When I state the food is hot and fresh, meters away the kitchen and bakery stand ready to serve any table. Special orders will come with big smiles, which I will speak of later.
Speaking of service, in the back kitchen humming with activity, pots bubble, pans splash back hot oils flavoring sauces, the burners hold large pots of pastas timed for removal, so their textures are perfect. Bread dough rising stands ready for the oven, so it is fresh and hot.
There is a working silence, only the instinct of the cooks adding to the masterpieces to come together.
As we stood staring out across the crowd, heads turn in our direction with genuine curiosity wondering who we are, not strangers but new or old arrivals to Bromarv. Their faces are bright and express a feeling of contentment, something found in this village which has turned down the racing meter of the soul to finally rest. Smiles greet us with “Hej!” or “Hei!” with others introducing themselves, openly turning their chairs in our direction. We return smiles and a “Hej!” a “Hei!”, and I an American “Hi”, which must have sounded like I was from another planet.
In amongst the greetings, we hear our names called, there sitting to the left of us is Sonja, bright, golden-haired, glowing, reaching out to us to join her table. Sonja and Harriet greet each other with a hug, sit for a second then go to order their food. At the table I sense a feeling of community around me, a scene of families eating, drinking, real laughter, and bit of teasing each other, fingers pointing in a way I know they are joking about what they are discussing. What stands out is the mixture of young and the elderly enjoying the same humor, their eyes pinched shut and mouths wide open sending forth loud laughter.
I spot Charlotta Wiberg, the petite cashier who gave us an enthusiastic welcome at SkafferiEtt, the General Store, she waves and shouts another loud ”Hei!” then returns to her meal. Those paying attention to the exchange between us smile. “Well, if Lotti knows him, he’s okay with us.” This is the feeling I have roaring toward me across the room that I am welcome.
A small lady in red sits down near Charlotta, placing her hands beneath the table, looks around and waits for someone. She smiles three or four times at me, then out the bank of windows facing the parking lot. Sonja and Harriet return with their food as I exit the table walking pass the crowd of seated customers who nod or give another “Hei!” in my direction.
I stand in front of two glass display cases of freshly baked pastries. A smiling host greets me requesting my order and helps translate the menu. I choose the Bromarv toast, which is black bread, white fish, asparagus, and parmesan topped off with Dill sauce. She smiles again and directs my attention where I can get coffee for myself as I like.
Once again while returning to sit with Sonja and Harriet the same persons who greeted me before repeated the same gestures and say, ”Hei” or “Hej.”
As Sonja listens to Harriet and I discuss our ten days with all our senses, and the flow and pace of the village, my eyes keep drifting over to a gentle man taking a seat at small circular table in the far back corner of the restaurant. From that distance we caught each other’s eyes then look away, we look up at the same time doing the same, he nods first, then I return one.
Sonja tells us a brief history of the village and how they would love to have more people settle down in Bromarv and raise their children there. The school system would really welcome all to the vast opportunities to gain experience from the local talents in the arts, farming, and agriculture, in a place of Nature’s peace.
My Bromarv Toast comes with white fish stacked so high; it looks like a little skyscraper ready to topple over from dill sauce. There it is again, the service comes with wide smile and the server steps away stating, “If you need anything just ask and I will bring it to you.” She leaves.
One bite and a single chew, my tongue wants to yell out. “There she blows on my plate, an incredible white fish sandwich, speared by green asparagus and served up with dill plucked from the fields of Finland, a ship captain’s delight.” Of course, I hold my tongue and seat controlling my enthusiasm. I must have given myself away. Everyone watched to see if I enjoyed the Bromarv Toast, which is a favorite local dish. I did. The flavor of the sauce on the white fish rose like a wave of expectation and crashed on the shores of my mouth giving great satisfaction, wow. By the time the feeling of warm satisfaction moved across my body, I had speared another bite to continue enjoying the composed flavors on my tongue. Incredible. I take it you may have noticed I love tasty food. I had five aunts in my family who were great cooks. However, I personally have never had a sandwich like this.
My eyes looked up and there in the corner a smile formed on the gentle face of the man in the corner jesting with his fork, somehow knowing he knew I liked my sandwich. I signaled back with a thumbs up and a smile. He agreed.
Another three people walked in approaching the lady in red sitting with her hands under the table waiting. They all greeted each other by hugging then settled down with one of them going over to order food. Why did this situation catch my attention? It was their smiles. Having worked in the field of animation for fifty-one years, I have seen and drawn thousands of smiles that meant different things. A mark or a small line in the right or wrong place could change the meaning of an expression to something different than what the character was expressing inside or outside.
There was the half smile of disappointment, the insane smile of adulation, cute smiles of goodness, endearing smiles, ones tender, arousing feelings of admiration. As I mentioned, Bromarv gave peace and a pace to the people, smiles were real, honest – and the busy tuned-down smile of the big city I did not see even once in the first ten days in Bromarv.
Friends of ours asked before we left, “What will you write and illustrate once you get there? There are villages like Bromarv covering the landscapes of Finland like mushrooms, what is the difference?”
“The people. Each town has it feeling because it is the people who come and stay there and prosper. there are those who except nature and stay, and other fight Nature’s voice of peace and rest, so they leave. Soon those who stay form a village.”
When creating a film, story and characters are key factors, no one is there to sell backgrounds. They help establish the mood, but mood isn’t the story.
People set the mood of a place, so there is where my interests take over and run forward to explain what life is about living with Nature. I love Nature and was born in her surrounding beauty.
I get up to refill my coffee and while there the gentle man who agreed the food is tasty, introduces himself as Boe and tells me he’s having the steak sandwich packed with meat.
Once again, his face smiles large then continues enjoying his meal. On my way back a server and the chef emerge from the kitchen, carrying four plates of food to the table where the lady in red sits. I stop and watch. Once again, every person from the servers to the served greet each other with smiles. It’s a beautiful thing to see and experience. Even if I am not part of the group, their smiles are so intoxicating that I want to join in smiling, like Christopher Robin watching Winnie the Pooh and friends having a grand time.
The chef and server start back to the kitchen, I can’t stand there like a totem holding a cup of coffee.
“The Bromarv Toast is fantastic.”
Very humble the chef hesitates, looks me in the eyes, and smiles. “Thank you.” Her reply is so simple and direct it throws me off balance for a second.
Home in LA , not being critical, a chef seldom carries food to the table, even if they are shorthanded. Furthermore, if complemented, they seem to stand over you with a slight air of superiority, as if to say,
“Why of course, your dish was created with these hands, blah, blah, blah.”
Later, after the crowd thinned out the chef did speak with us, however, but here it was different. Even when we continued to praise the dishes made and delivered to our table, they were at peace and humble. In turn, you felt what you ate had the same energy. Then they left.
Sonja repeated the question my friends asked. “What will you write and illustrate about Bromarv?”
I didn’t hesitate.
Later at our B&B I scribbled a Haiku how I felt about Bromarv.
Smiles seed the landscape
Seasons are its kind children
Abundance its rain
A.B. Dance kokeilee kevään 2022 aikana asumista Bromarvissa vaimonsa Harrietin ja Dina-koiran kanssa. Tässä sarjassa hän kertoo, miltä tuntuu muuttaa suurkaupungista pikkukylän rauhaan ja jakaa kokemuksiaan elämästä Bromarvissa.