Chapter 9 – Lund, a love story

Lund is my spiritual home in Sweden and I can not imagine a city filled with more history, charm and beauty. Whenever I get back I love to walk around in the historical area in the center of the town. The Cathedral, the University, the Academic Union, the medieval brick building called the KIng’s House all together make up the center of my universe.

They will forever remain so much part of my past and my youth that they are truly part of me. And there is the most wonderful old park, Lundagård, right next to the university with its several hundred-year-old trees.

My university, the white building not too well seen behind some young trees, and the medieval King's House where we also had some classes. Photo taken on a cold winter day in February 2011.

My university, the white building not too well seen behind some young trees, and the medieval King’s House where we also had some classes. Photo taken on a cold winter day in February 2011.

Lund is one of the two oldest cities in Sweden, the other one being Sigtuna, close to Stockholm. According to Danish history, since Lund and Skåne were at the time part of Denmark, the City of Lund dates from 990. From 1103 it was the seat of an archbishop. At the center of the city stands the towering Lund Cathedral, built about 1090-1145.

Lundagård and the King's House hiding behind the centuries old trees. -- pictire taken on asunny day in the summer of '71.

Lundagård and the King’s House hiding behind the centuries old trees – on a sunny summer day in ’71.

The Christianization  of Sweden took place in a somewhat haphazard way  –  in the south at first, but also by the apostle Ansgar on the island of Birka in Lake Mälaren, the first small town that later grew to become Stockholm.

The bishopric of Lund only became part of Sweden after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, which turned the four southernmost provinces over to Sweden. Skåne (or Scania) in the very south was the most important one, with the cities that thrived within the Hanseatic league 1.

Lund Cathedral became a center for Christianity for all of Scandinavia. In fact, Lund was an important city even before the first cathedral was built. The bishop of Lund became the first archbishop for all of Scandinavia in 1104 and the construction of the cathedral was begun sometime after he took office. The ancient crypt has been untouched since 1123.

Lund Cathedral seen from Kyrkogatan

Lund Cathedral seen from Kyrkogatan

The cathedral is one of the wonders of Lund and many legends are tied to this old building. There was in pagan days Finn the giant (jätten Finn) who fought against Christianity. He had enormous strength but this strength was dependent on nobody knowing his name. However, one day a monk walked by in the hillsides where his wife was singing a lullaby to their son, saying ‘Lie still, baby mine! Tomorrow cometh Fin, Father thine’. The monk hastened to Finn and said ‘I know your name. You are Finn and now your strength is broken.’ Finn got furious, went down into the crypt of the cathedral and wrapped his arms around a pillar in order to pull it out and destroy the cathedral. But at that moment he was turned into stone, and that is why there is a stone man hugging a pillar in the crypt of the Cathedral in Lund to this day.

The gorgeous apse which remains almost unaltered from the first cathedral building,

The gorgeous apse which remains almost unaltered from the first cathedral building,

A funny thing comes to my mind when I go back to all my wanderings past the cathedral in my student days. A huge black long-haired dog, most likely a Newfoundland, was always lying peacefully right on the corner of the paved area in front of the cathedral. It was the dog of Professor Siwe who lived right across the street on Kyrkogatan (Church street). Obviously the professor let him out every morning to spend his day in the open air. Siwe was a professor in pediatrics and a well-known personality in Lund. The dog must have been pretty old even in my days since he never budged, always taking the same position on that same corner on Kyrkogatan. Later on when I came back to Lund during my first marriage, I can’t remember seeing the great hairy dog any more. He was so much part of the scene in the very center of Lund that everybody knew him and must have missed him after he disappeared. An institution was gone.

The main street in Lund which is virtually unchanged in the center since my student days, even though the wonderful university bookstore Gleerups, right front, looks a little fancier than it used to in my days.

Lund as a university city is fabulous. It’s unique in the world of its kind. And I’m not exaggerating. The small town with a center that is so totally dominated by the university that it IS the university. The medieval buildings, the center so totally dominated by the university, the Academic Union (Akademiska Föreningen, AF), the superb Romanesque Cathedral and, not to be forgotten, Kulturen, the open-air historical museum. In size it can not compare with Skansen on Djurgården in Stockholm, but it has a wonderful collection of very old Skåne houses and it is a marvelous experience to just wander around bending your back to get through the low door openings to the oldest houses, admiring the fancy and also non-fancy old carriages, having children ride on the rocking horse of Charles XII and just enjoying the serenity and beauty of the museum.

Rune stones in front of Kulturen, the wonderful open-air historical museum

Rune stones in front of ‘Kulturen’, the wonderful open-air historical museum

I loved the university and even some of the classes. The old building that is called the King’s House, where we had some classes, is a historical landmark. The steps are very low to begin with and now also very worn. Charles XII (Karl XII), the king who ended the days of Sweden as a great power by his senseless wars through his death outside Oslo in 1718, is supposed to have gone on horseback up those steps. A quaint story, whether it’s true or not.

The King’s House (Kungshuset) was built by the Danish king Frederick II between 1578–84 when Skåne was part of Denmark, and was originally intended as the residence for the bishop of Lund. After the secession of the Scanian lands to Sweden at the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, and the foundation of Lund University in 1668 to enhance the Swedification of the Danish provinces, the house was incorporated to serve as the university’s main building and library. For a time the top of the tower also held an observatory.

Lund is entirely dominated by the university. An old saying goes that Lund lives on professors’ widows, the widows live on the students, and the students live on loans. But that was before all the dormitories grew up all over the city, dormitories built and financed by the ‘nations’, a term borrowed from the Middle Ages and Paris when at the Sorbonne and also other continental universities there were actually several nations represented in the student body.

The ‘nations’ at Lund University simply represent provinces, and mine was of course Småland’s Nation, since most of my ancestors came from  Småland. More and more of these very comfortable dormitories were built all the time, by ‘nations’ or by the Academic Union. I did though rent a room with families for a couple of years before I managed by hook and by crook to get a foot in the door to my nation’s board (by helping to move chairs for our big parties). I later got a post as a leader of the party organization, called, as if by a typical student joke, sex master and sex mistress.

Akademiska föreningen in Lund — PHOTO File:AF-borgen i Lund-1.

The academic center of Lund is the most wonderful city center I have ever known. The major edifices are set around a beautiful fountain in a small park and there are also the old buildings that were there even before the university was constructed in the 17th century. There is the King’s House – late 16th century – situated at the edge of the very central University area and also at the edge of the wonderful park, Lundagården, with lots of dignified trees that are hundreds of years old. Fountains, statues, everything fabulously beautiful and, in my days, hundreds of bicycles in front of the Academic Union.

The interior of the Academic Union was redone completely the year before I started my studies, while I was in France. We now had a huge hall for students’ recreation, tables and chairs all over, games like chess and bräde, an old Swedish variation on backgammon,  on the side by the big windows that open onto the University and the huge fountain in front of it. There was of course a counter where hot and cold drinks could be bought. This social gathering place was called Athens (or actually Athenaeum) and while it was under reconstruction (probably two years’ work), the students were confined to a much smaller recreation hall that was called – what else – Sparta.

Liberiet, the small red brick building just south of the cathedral, dates from the 15th century. It was first used as a library for the diocese and later, after the university was founded in 1668 — after Skåne had become part of Sweden — was taken over by it and was used by the Faculty of Arts. It is now a quiet gathering place for ‘pilgrims’ who come from far away to socialize and find peace.

Liberiet, the 15th century red brick building with the Cathedral in the background

Liberiet, the 15th century red brick building with the Cathedral in the background

What makes Lund so remarkable is the way it’s still today pretty much unchanged in the center, even though it’s growing fast on the outskirts. But who cares? For the huge student events, such as the Carnival, which takes place every four years, the center of Lund IS Lund. The outlying areas are just non-important living areas and some clean industries.

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There were many things going on within the university and the Academic Union that had very little to do with the teaching, such as big dances, where in those days we wore evening wear for the big occasions. And there were smaller events, by nations, such as the reception for the Hungarian refugee students in 1956 in Småland’s Nation’s basement that was arranged for parties (gillestugan).

I will forever be indebted to my long-time friend from Gymnasium, the law student, Karin R for waking me up from my general listlessness of those days and getting me to come along with her to lots of these student evenings. There were many of those studentaftnar, performances that left durable memories and that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. But in fact I would have missed them if it hadn’t been for my friend Karin.

There were lots of interesting people coming to perform. Theater groups and jazz bands, for instance, were performing on the big stage in the recently rebuilt interior of the Academic Union, where a huge hall (stora salen) served multiple purposes, as a theater, as a banquet hall with hundreds of tables and as a dance floor when a huge soirée was held. I remember vividly such a big party, probably co-sponsored by Småland’s nation and Lund’s nation (if I remember right). It was a fancy-dress ball. Since my stepfather, Arne, had been given a lot of old but beautiful costumes by the Royal Dramatic Theater for his own theatrical school productions at his school in Nyköping, I borrowed one  that our great actress, Inga Tidblad, had worn in ‘The Taming of a Shrew’. There was a little tag inside the back of the gorgeous dress that told me about this. I was more beautifully dressed for that ball than I’ve ever been in my life. Which was a first for me, since I usually wore evening dresses that I had sewn myself. They were not bad, and combined with a fancy shawl they could do, but I was not a professional seamstress.

Mentioning the great Inga Tidblad makes me think of all the unforgettable theater performances I’ve seen at the Royal Dramatic Theater, but I’ll get back to that later.

Often an intellectual evening was arranged, as when the famous theater and literary critic, Harry Schein, in 1956 had proclaimed in the incomparable intellectual monthly magazine Bonnier’s Literary Magazine 2Jag är trött på film’ (I am tired of film). He was invited to a student evening with several other notables, among them Ingmar Bergman, then the Director of Malmö City Theater. (‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ by Tennessee Williams and ‘Peer Gynt‘ by Ibsen were among some of his most remarkable stage performances.)

These were the days before most of Ingmar Bergman’s world-famous movies hit the screen, but he was still an outstanding celebrity. There was also Carl-Anders Dymling, director for Svensk Filmindustri, the multi-activities cultural center figure and journalist, Harry Schein himself, who grew up in Austria and never lost his little German accent. And there were others.

Bergman had been promised, as a condition for his presence at the event, that he would not be called on to speak. I remember how he was the only one dressed in a dark turtle-neck sweater, no jacket, very typically. After a few speakers had gone by, Harry Schein (long-time husband of the famous actress, Ingrid Thulin), and a couple of others, Ingmar Bergman was of course encouraged to say a few words anyway, though he didn’t fail to point out that he’d been promised not to have to speak.

There was a performance by our own Students’ drama club (Lunds studentteater) of the ‘Three Penny Opera’ by Bertold Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. However, since I have the Three Penny Opera in my blood, I’ll get back to it elsewhere. Die Dreigroschenoper or Tolvskillingsoperan are the names for Bertold Brecht’s wonderful beggars’ opera  that I was used to when I grew up 3.

In 1957 there was a wonderful performance of Stravinsky’s L’histoire d’un soldat by Malmö City Theater performed in the classical way, the soldier telling his story to the audience while the music is playing softly behind him. It is based on a Russian folk tale and is a parable about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil in exchange for a magic book. I had never seen it before and I was fascinated. The devil is also on the stage, but I mainly remember the soldier telling his story. I loved the music and the talking going on together.

There was a jazz evening with the only Swedish jazz musician of that time who could hold his own next to the world famous Arne Domnerus – called Dompan by the boys in our group of adolescent Gymnasium students who usually got together for fun and dance on Saturday evenings in our homes, very often in mine. He was Carl-Henrik Norin and he had brought wonderful Brita Borg singing one of her most famous numbers ‘Fat Mammy Brown’, dressed up as an Afro-American gospel singer with a brown face and rich padding around her body. She brought the house down.

Brita Borg was the best Swedish jazz singer after Alice Babs, who became an international star. Alice Babs got to be almost as renowned for her scat singing as Ella Fitzgerald. The first time I saw her was during the war when I was just a little girl. She was performing in a park close to where we lived at the time and we were simply standing around listening to this young teenager singing swing and yodeling. I don’t even know if there was an entrance fee, but probably so. She was fun and she was good, but little did we suspect that this young girl was going to become an international star and act in numerous movies. Alice Babs in Sweden WAS swing. And she was a wonderful jazz singer.

There was the wonderful jazz ballet ‘Frankie and Johnny’ choreographed by  C. G. Kruuse, in November 1955. Carl-Gustaf Kruuse was not Alvin Ailey, but it was my first jazz ballet and I was spellbound. Kruuse, usually a rather traditional choreographer at Malmö City Theater, outdid himself this time. It was real jazz ballet and I was bewitched.

At another student evening in 1955 we saw the most extraordinary performer, also a first for me, the masterful mime, Marcel Marceau. It was like magic, ‘seeing’ him open doors that were not there, getting into a room that wasn’t there, sitting down on a chair that wasn’t there…  Or sensuously dancing with a woman when he was alone on the stage. I saw him again in New York City and I could never tire of a superbly skillful mime like Marcel Marceau. A couple of decades later, in San Francisco with John, we saw mimes that had certainly been influenced by Marcel Marceau. although very different. Outside a central theater in downtown S.F. there were numerous mimes standing absolutely still for hours, or so it seemed, painted white like the French master of mime. but no sketches there. Quite memorable, nevertheless.

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The most traditional entertainment form in Lund was by far the spex (an ancient abbreviation of spectacle), created by a group of men called Lundaspexarna. Those amateur comedies were deliberately vulgar parodies on Latin and Greek dramas and the ’modern’ form of spex dates from the years in the mid 19th century when classical studies were far more central at the universities than they are today or were in my days. Uppsala was actually the university where the spex was born around the middle of the 19th century, but Lund opened up to the tradition a couple of decades later 4

Today there are at least four universities in Sweden where the spex has long-running traditions. All the actors have always been and still are men, which makes the love scenes so hilariously funny.

Calling it musical comedy is altogether misleading, since there’s no comparison whatever between a spex and this American form of  entertainment which I have never been an ardent admirer of. The long-haired hippy and  rock musical Hair is the great exception to my general down-putting of musical comedies. I didn’t see Hair until 1968 on Broadway but friends of mine had seen it off Broadway at Joseph Papp’s own theater and strongly urged me and my husband to go and see it. (I later saw it in 1970 in Paris in a totally different production. It was beautifully staged and not uninteresting, but it didn’t have the spark and the cheekiness of the New York production.)

Among the most famous spex is Uarda, the Egytian Pharaoh’s daughter, and also Djingis Khan, which was first written and performed for the carnival (‘my’ carnival) in 1954. Uarda dates from 1908 but isn’t quite the oldest spex in Lund. Gerda dating from 1886 is the oldest one. However, the success Uarda has met with for over a century is unparalleled. It is renewed every five years and it’s always an enormous event.

The now historical Uarda poster, seen on the walls of many student rooms

The now historical Uarda poster, seen on the walls of many student rooms (Photo veengle.com — Harald Sjövalls classical poster for the spex Uarda from 1908).

Since all the parts are played, singing and talking varying throughout, by men, the love scenes become absolutely hilarious. The reason why only men are acting is simply because in the early 20th century there were no women at the universities.

Uarda, correctly ‘Uarda eller Sfinxens spådom‘ (Uarda or the divination of the Sphinx), is a Lund student spex set in ancient Egypt. It has been said to be the most beautiful flower in the Lund spex flora. Uarda is the name of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter in a novel by the same title written by Georg Ebers (1876), and on which the libretto of the spex is based. But the lyrics are typical for the kind of Lund student humor that is at the center of all spexes. The acting is a wild parody of Offenbach operettas and the like, but much more so. La belle Hélène, which is a spoof in itself, was a perfect example to follow while going much further in comical effects.

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The year I got back from France, I had the enormous luck to be invited to the Lundaspexarna’s own big party in the banquet hall at the Academic Union. It was not in any way thanks to me since I didn’t know any of the ‘spexare’. However, a Frenchman had arrived from Paris, invited by my sister’s medical-school friend Maggan. Since he spoke no Swedish and they, Maggan and her spexare friends, spoke no French, it was considered a bright idea to get me, newly back from 7 months in France, to serve as a guide for this Marcel who sold arts objects and was a minor artist himself. So Marcel and I were invited to attend the wonderful soirée where I heard Cilla Ingvar for the first time.

In May of 1953 we joined the huge crowd in the banquet hall at the newly rebuilt Academic Union. The salle was crowded and everybody was standing up in this sea of students, spexare and people like me, just invited audience. A stage had been built up on the long side of the big hall and Cilla Ingvar was the event. I was new at the university and it was the first time I heard her name. Her most famous song, ‘Susie fra København’ was a song in Danish written by Crüll Fältström who wrote many songs for Cilla over the years. In her powerful and sexy voice she sang about this Copenhagen high-class demi-monde with a bravura that I had never heard the like of.

Susie fra København is timidly looking out from behind a pillar in the atrium of the Academic Union

Susie fra København is timidly looking out from behind a pillar in the atrium of the Academic Union (Photo medialive.se)

Susie fra København (by Crüll Fältström)

Jeg er fra København
jeg er fra Kongens by
og hvis du lider mig
så kommer jeg til dig

(I am from Copenhagen
I am from the King’s city
And if you like me
I’ll come to you)

To be perfectly truthful, I am only sure of the words in the first two lines, but the meaning of what she was singing is what I have put into my own words here in Danish. Mig and dig are pronounced in Danish more or less like my and thy (well, dy) but meaning me and thee.

The audience went wild with applause and hurrays.

Followed Kolasången – The toffee song,  ’Får jag bjuda en kola på dej?’ (May I offer a toffee to you?). It wasn’t even an anti-climax after Susie fra København brought the house down. I admit I don’t recall the tune of this one, but Cilla was the incomparable star once again, and the enthusiasm was, once again, unequaled to anything I’d ever heard.

Cilla was the daughter of the professor in practical (internal) medicine, Sven Ingvar, who was an old friend of Karl Gerhard, the illustrious Swedish King of revues (vaguely cabaret). Her father died when Cilla was only 16 and it seems likely that Karl Gerhard was a kind of father figure for her after that. However that may be, Karl Gerhard had seen and heard her and made her his prima donna in 1955 in a New Year’s revue at the Cirkus theater on Djurgården, one of the most beautiful islands in Stockholm, where lots of theater and cultural sites are located 5. They also appeared at China theater located at Berzelii Park  Stockholm, where I saw her again with my first husband, Gudtav, a couple of years later in this totally different milieu. I was quite nervous, wondering if she would really be up to following in the footsteps of the great (though somewhat infamous) Zarah Leander. I didn’t need to worry. She was completely up to the task. Once again, she sang, among other songs by Karl Gerhard himself, her incomparable ‘Susie fra København’ and, once again, she brought the house down. Her fabulous stage presence combined with a voice that could wake the dead and her musicality, assured her the admiration of Swedish theater goers at large.

This magnificent student revue star went on to become a great revue prima donna for the most famous Swedish King of revues (a very special kind of cabaret) ever, Karl Gerhard. Revue is a very particularly Swedish form of intellectual / humorous / show biz entertainment with lots of ridiculing of politics and current events of the day.

Cilla worked with the King of revues until 1963 when she got married and changed her role to becoming a mother. She didn’t entirely give up on singing on various stages though. Even as late as in 1978 a friend of hers managed to get her back up on the stage, this time in Göteborg at Liseberg, the wonderful Göteborg amusement park. She had important functions for Sveriges Radio (the Swedish Radio) and also became a writer and a diversified cultural persona.

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Karl Gerhard in the play Lysistrate in 1945 in Malmö, play based on Aristophanes Lysistrata and directed by Sandro Malmquist (Foto Magda Molin)

Karl Gerhard in the play Lysistrate in 1945 in Malmö, play based on Aristophanes Lysistrata and directed by Sandro Malmquist (Foto Magda Molin)

Karl Gerhard (1891 – 1964) is a legend in Swedish cultural entertainment. He was not by any means the only king of revues; there were others before and after him – and at the same time. But Karl Gerhard was in a class of his own. For his wit, for his political engagement and for his great prima donnas. His strong anti-Nazi stand in a song (called a kuplett in Swedish, for this kind of politically inspired song for the stage) earned him the attention of the mass media, since his song Den ökända hästen från Troja (the infamous horse from Troy) 6  in 1940 was banned by the cowardly Swedish government as being too openly anti-Nazi. I knew the song from a record we had at home, Arne being a great fan of Karl Gerhard. It was of course intended to stir up the Swedish people (and government) from their collaborationist stand to Nazi Germany.

Karl Gerhard was truly a genius. His wonderful and often biting wit and his always present great sense of humor made him stand out among even the greatest of our cabaret performers. Add to that his amazing knowledge of Greek and Roman classical cultures, the Iliad in particular in the case of ‘The infamous Trojan horse’, and you get an entertainer who is unique.

He considered himself a Communist, but was probably just about the richest Communist ever. His home at my time in Stockholm was a huge villa in Saltsjöbaden, which is a most exclusive Stockholm inner archipelago suburb. In 1949 he adopted a very pretty little Ethiopian girl, called Fatima, born in Copenhagen, and all Swedes loved him all the more for that.

Before the war Karl Gerhard‘s greatest prima donna was Zarah Leander, a legend in herself, but a self-damning one in her decision to move to Nazi Germany before the war where she then became their greatest movie star and cabaret singer, the Aryan star under the protection of Goebbels.

However, Karl Gerhard, the self-styled Communist and outspoken anti-Nazi, wasn’t above compromising. Zarah was shunned by the Swedes for many years after the end of the war (she moved back to Sweden when her house in Berlin was bombed in 1943), but in 1952 Karl Gerhard took the momentous step of having her as his prima donna again. That year the twosome appeared – oh so  innocently – at the Cirkus theater in a revue as the ’sweet old couple from anno dazumal’ (Det rara gamla paret). Zarah sang ‘I am a prima donna from top to toe’ and ‘Vill ni se en stjärna, se på mej’ (If you want to see a star, well look at me!) in her husky voice and with a bravura that made us believe that she had completely forgotten about her Quisling days. Maybe, maybe not. Some people forget easily. Gustav and I saw her sing Vill ni se en stjärna in a Karl Gerhard revue in the late fifties, when Zarah was still very good-looking and had the stage presence that had made her famous. However, I was greatly relieved when Cilla Ingvar replaced her, a young star with her very own style and one that I had loved since my days as a student in Lund. I had never been a Zarah Leander lover. She was too vulgar in my view. I probably could never forgive her for her years entertaining Nazi Germans with Goebbels’ benediction.

Arne, my stepfather, knew Karl Gerhard from the world of theater. Arne, in fact, knew everybody. I don’t think he held it against Karl Gerhard that he’d actually wanted to take the great Zarah back, the prima donna of all times. I guess Arne was capable of compromising too.

I don’t think many people today know of the great French cabaret singer Mistinguett (the spelling she finally ended up with of her artist’s name). She was about fifteen years older than Karl Gerhard, but they knew each other well, and Karl Gerhard invited her to come to Sweden on at least one occasion. Arne told me a very cute little anecdote from her first look at Karl Gerhard as an artist. She was watching him, her good friend, from the wings as he did his routine, which was always singing a ‘kuplett‘, which in Karl Gerhard’s case was always in the witty political-satirical genre, performed with a superb stage presence. He also regularly made fun of locally scandalous events with a political overtone. As Karl Gerhard came off the stage, Mistinguett looked at him with a big smile and some surprise and gave him her judgement as a seasoned cabaret artist: “Charles, tu es bon!”. She must have thought that a little country like Sweden couldn’t produce a cabaret artist who was up to the standards of herself and one of her very best friends, Maurice Chevalier.

I am not particularly fond of Mistinguett’s singing voice, which in my view was too strident in the French way – much more so than Edith Piaf, whom I definitely prefer as a singer. But Mistinguett was the most illustrious French cabaret singer, the highest paid entertainer ever in those days – and with the most highly insured legs. She never failed to show her legs in her sketches. I can actually be very sure that she visited Sweden since I actually saw her myself in 1944 or 1945 at the Amusement Park in Malmö (Malmö Folkets Park). I remember her star figure on the outdoor stage, but I can’t remember if I liked her voice at the time or not. I was just a child anyway. Cabarets in Paris went on performing during the war, partly for the entertainment of the German military, but she might still have been tempted by a stint in Sweden. In war-torn Paris money was certainly not growing in the streets, and traveling across continents was out of the question for quite a few years. Mistinguett can probably be compared to a Marlene Dietrich of an earlier generation, but not nearly as elegant or sophisticated.

What I remember with a laugh is how Arne and Mother were coming to Stockholm for Karl Gerhard’s 70th birthday party. After they got settled in their hotel room, Mother discovered she had left her high-heeled shoes behind in Nyköping. Panic. What do we do now? They called me in the suburb of Stockholm where I lived with my husband Gustav, and we drove to their hotel as fast as we could, with two pairs of shoes. Luckily we had the same size of shoes. Okay, the evening was saved for Mother and all she did was make fun of Zarah Leander for wearing her mink coat the entire evening. Well, I said, maybe her dress had split in the back or something. That’s the closest I ever got to the great King of revues, except from being in the audience.

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Poster for 'my' carnival in 1954 (Photo Lunds Studentkårs Karneval 1954 talkingbeautifulstuff.com

Poster for ‘my’ carnival in 1954 (Photo Lunds Studentkårs Karneval 1954 talkingbeautifulstuff.com

However, in spite of my enthusiasm for Cilla Ingvar, the biggest event during my student years was, after all, the Carnival in 1954. It went on for three festive days in May, as it always does, and it was of course unforgettable. It is impossible to transmit a feeling of what a Lundakarneval is really like, unless you have been there once. The enormous parade (karnevalståget) is just one of the great events, but it goes on, and on, and on. Everybody ‘known’ in Sweden is made fun of, royalty of course, politicians, Swedish historical figures, popular singers, entertainers of all sorts. It was an endless parody on everything that could possibly be held up to be laughed at in Sweden at the time. And there was a lot. This carnival, the biggest one of all times, was called Skandalkarnevalen, probably because the royals were mercilessly made fun of, among others the present king, Carl XVI Gustaf, who was then 8 years old and became king in 1973. The parade was spectacular and my friends and I spent hours laughing at all the droll floats, not filled with flowers, but with parodies of celebrities, Viking maidens with long tresses, hula-hula girls, Tibetan monks and whatnot.

There was a new spex, Djingis Kahn, which I only vaguely remember, except for a few songs.  It got to be one of the most famous spexes in Lund and is performed every five years, the same as Uarda, which will always be my favorite spex. It came back in 1958, my last year in Lund. It is absolutely hilarious, the lyrics, the rhymes, the senselessly funny love scenes.

And there was the Lundarevue, cabaret, circus, a carnival movie, no end to the 3-day entertainment. Cilla Ingvar was a drum major in the parade and got more attention than anything else, the prima donna in the revue and an actress in the carnival movie.

No student worked during those days and the carnival dizziness stayed with us for a long time.

Continued:  Chapter 10 — Stockholm theater

  1. The confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns – Malmö, Ystad, Stockholm, Göteborg and a host of medieval cities around the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Hansa, originally a German merchant league, dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe
  2. Bonniers Litterära Magasin
  3. An adaptation of John Gay’s ‘The Beggar’s Opera’
  4. The first spexes were made as early as in the 16th century in Uppsala, Sweden. Local students were practicing Latin by making Latin plays which were called spexes. Since all the students at that time were men, all the actors were men as well.
  5. Chapter 16 – Stockholm and some history
  6. YoutubeDen ökända hästen från Troja by Karl Gerhard

3 thoughts on “Chapter 9 – Lund, a love story

  1. I really enjoyed reading Chapter 9 and learned so much about Swedish culture and entertainment that I would have otherwise never known; likewise it is nice to know about this part of your journey. What wonderful experience and opportunities you’ve had in your life! I knew nothing about the history of Sweden and Lund sounds so charming … magical … in so many ways, from the architecture to the university scenes to the theatre, spex and music.

    I love your description of Marceau’s performances, “… like magic, ‘seeing’ him open doors that were not there, getting into a room that wasn’t there, sitting down on a chair that wasn’t there… Or sensuously dancing with a woman when he was alone on the stage.”

    I share your distaste for most musical theatre in the US – the only two exceptions being Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, probably a result of my interests, time and place in life.

    This memoir is extremely well-written and presented … Fun! I’m sure that some culture and travel magazines would eat it up!

  2. Restored: Original comment on 18 March 2013 at 19:38

    It is impossible to read this without getting a very clear picture of Lund. The area around the university sounds to be beautiful and it is not hard to see why you love it so dearly.

  3. Pingback: Sketches from the Life of a Wandering Swede | Siv’s sketches from her life

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