Chapter 11 – Marriage and teaching

It’s perfectly clear to me now that I owe a great deal to my first husband, Roland. Yes, I did ultimately marry Roland after all. He got me out of my long depression and I could finally turn the page and go back to living. He was a good man and I liked him a lot, in spite of his ruining my first serious love affair with young and handsome Bo. It would probably not have worked out anyway. I wasn’t at all prepared to settle down and become a housewife and a mother.

Roland was a very social person, liked by everybody, including my sister Gun and her husband Per. He had a great sense of humor and, above all, he offered me a home, belonging, respectability. And he loved me. I thought that was all I wanted in my feeling of not belonging anywhere. He was much older than I and had two children from a previous marriage whom I got to be very attached to. So he wouldn’t expect me to have children, a thing I was definitely not prepared for.

However, things did not work out very well and after three years I realized that Roland and I did not see the roles of the man and the woman in a marriage in the same way. My first remark when I saw the apartment he had furnished for us was: ‘Where is the maid going to sleep?’ We were both going to work and when I grew up, there had always been a maid in a maid’s room. Until my stingy mother got the idea that we didn’t need a maid any more and we were all going to participate in the cooking and whatever else had to be done. Our last maid left suddenly with half of our linen supply and a suitcase from the attic to pack it in. I guess that was the limit. The fact that Mother underpaid the maids didn’t help anything.

Well, in my first marriage, I was the maid, even though I insisted on having a cleaning woman. I was the maid, the cook and the hostess and it was not what I’d expected since I also was a full-time teacher.

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Just about the first thing I did after getting married and living in this apartment which I had not furnished myself, was to go and buy a radio with a turntable under a lid at the top. It had two different heads and so you could set it for 78s or for 44s or for 33s (LPs). It wasn’t a big or very expensive thing but it did have two speakers, even though not ideally positioned, as I learned later. This was the childhood of stereophonic or high fidelity records and the sound I got wasn’t bad at all.

So now I needed records. I became a subscriber to a club, ‘The Concert Hall Society’ (a so-called Musical Masterpiece Society) that sent out records on a monthly basis. If you didn’t want it, you just had to remember to write them back and say No.

I had grown up mostly with Beethoven and Mozart and, adding to that, a little bit of everything. However, since those were the days of 78s, we couldn’t get anything like operas, but had to be content with overtures Wagner (Tannhaüser), von Weber (der Freischütz), Beethoven (Leonore, Egmont), Mozart (Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni) and the like. And in those days one also had excerpts of operas and single movements of symphonies. The year I graduated from high school we had a record player constructed with all the right components but with an ugly box to house all these parts in. Never mind, it worked and the sound was good.

Arne’s first LP record was a birthday present from his mother in July, and it was the entire opera comique of Carmen – Fritz Reiner conducting and Rise Stevens singing Carmen. Oh joy! It was the summer of 1953 when I was back from France and all I cared about was being back with my family, even though the ‘refrigerator’ was about twenty meters from the house in a dug-out with steps leading down to the very cool space in the underground. We were living our gypsy life in a totally primitive house close to my uncle’s house in southern Småland. So to listen to our first LP record we had to go to a cousin of Mother’s house in the town next-door. We all sat around listening solemnly, but in something close to ecstasy. The sound was marvelous. I can not remember who sang Carmen.

Well, there was no way I was going to give up on music and I got a pretty good collection of records. I can’t remember many of the ones I got from the Concert Hall Society, but I did get a Mozart piano sonata that I usually like, but I wasn’t crazy about it for some reason. One day I just happened to hear it on the radio played by Ingmar Bergman’s fourth wife, Käbi Laretei, an Estonian-Swedish pianist, the daughter of an Estonian diplomat, whose family had moved in exile to Sweden during the war. She was one of those women who looked so lovely that you would just wish you could have had her as a friend. To my great surprise she was playing exactly the same sonata as the one I had from the Concert Hall Society, I felt that Lili Kraus may be a great pianist but at least for this one Käbi Laretei is far better. I thought ‘That’s just exactly how it has to be played’. I have rarely admired a woman as much as her. It was un coup de foudre as we say in French. Her incredible sensitivity, her beauty, her mastery of the piano to do exactly what she wanted it to do was amazing.

I do remember a couple of other records from those days, but none that have left as deep an imprint in my mind. Oh, I remember how I did not care for Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and how that has stayed with me. The Swan Lake is just about the only piece I like by him and I love the ballet when it’s well choreographed of course. I much prefer the Russian composers who sound like Russians. Tchaikovsky tries so hard to sound as western as possible. I had a record with lots of overtures by Rossini, which I exchanged with Arne because he had the overture to Wilhelm Tell that wasn’t on my record. But of all the things I like by Rossini, my forever favorite is la Cenerentola, in its entirety, and with Teresa Berganza singing la Cenerentola.”Una volta c’era un re’. That’s heaven.

It often happened that after work I was lying just listening to my music, on the wonderfully comfortable sofa which was also practically indestructible. We had it even in Paris after all the years in New Rochelle in Westchester, and we only finally gave it to a friend when we got tired of the new cover I’d had had put on in New Rochelle. The man who did the recovering for me said ‘They just don’t make them like that any more.’ This wonderful sofa I had bought myself with the money I’d made on the part-time teaching job during my last year in Lund.

I would relax from my day of teaching and shopping on the way home and when Roland came home he was all surprised to see that I wasn’t busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. Well, there were no scenes of course, just mild surprise.

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One Easter vacation though, stands out very especially in my memory. We had been given the use of a vacation house in Storlien, a wonderful winter resort for skiing, by friends and neighbors of Arne and Mother. Storlien is in a province to the northwest of Stockholm, called Jämtland, and it is right on the border of Norway. We had bought me hickory skis that were far better than what I had had in my childhood. I was not a good skier at all, but I managed. Roland was a very good skier and off we went.

I remember especially one day when we took the ski-lift up to the top. There was only one lift in those days and it certainly looks very different today. Once up at the top, the deep snow was more or less in the shape of a plateau, with gentle hills, no trees, just the white snow. We went on skiing up and down, westwards. In a very short time we realized that we must now be in Norway. Even though I was not at all very skilled, I enjoyed the snow and the cool air and being alone up there in this white world where there were no borders and no people to disturb you, just you and the wide white cover on the earth.

On the border between Sweden and Norway it happens often that you don’t quite know which country you are in. And also when there are people to talk to, you can’t tell easily if they are speaking a dialect of Swedish or of Norwegian. One language goes so gradually over into the other language that you ask yourself what is a dialect and what is a language; a question that linguists often ask themselves.

On the way back we had to ski downhill through a forest. It was a bit difficult to find a path between the trees but I think I made it not too badly. What I clearly remember was the little ditch that was just before one gets back to the bottom of the slope. I said, Oops, am I going to manage that without falling? Well, I did. I was pleased with myself.

One day we also took the car and drove over to Trondheim in Norway, set back from the sea in the fjord that’s called – what else? – Trondheimsfjorden. The drive was not very far and it was about the most spectacular one I’ve ever witnessed. Steep mountains on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other side. And the old town of Trondheim is adorable.with old colorful wooden houses, the way you can still see them today in some selected areas in Scandinavia.

The day we left the house it had snowed so heavily that Roland first had to dig a deep path out from the house to the road. That vacation was actually even more memorable than future ski vacations in Vermont about six or seven years later.

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Now I wanted to go on with my life outside of the little world I’d been hemmed into. I felt sad and guilty about leaving Roland, who was basically a good man, but I just couldn’t limit my life to the narrow borders drawn up by this marriage. There was a whole world outside and my life was so far from over. I had to move on.

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The school where I was teaching those three years played an important part in the change of my way of looking at the world around me. Since I had next to no teaching experience, apart from the part-time job for one term while I was still a student, thinking I could combine a part-time teaching job with doing a minor in philosophy. It didn’t work out and I made very little progress in my philosophy studies that term.

So now I settled for a job in a vocational school close to where we were living in a northern suburb of Stockholm. That turned out to be very lucky for me. My colleagues were vocational teachers, electro-mechanics, car mechanics, a wood working teacher, and a wide range of non-academic subjects.

It didn’t take much to make me change my immature views on justice and equality. What got to be a turnabout in my life was my discussions about politics with some of my very bright colleagues. They made me change my way of seeing the world and I became a convinced socialist, an important change in my life since I had grown up with conservative parents and had, like most children, adopted their views. I have to add here though that being a conservative in Social democratic Sweden has very little to do with being a conservative in a country like the United States or in most any other European country, except for Scandinavia. Arne for one was anything but a bigot, a bit of an upper class elitist, but without looking down on anybody. Being partly Jewish himself and also proud of his Jewishness, he had very open views when it came to racial matters. He was also an intellectual who despised the view that money makes for nobility.

There were also two not-any-more-young men who were what we call civil economists, graduates from a very prestigious school, Handelshögskolan, comparable to the French grande école, Hautes Etudes Commerciales, HEC. They had both been in business and Sven F who became a very good friend of mine had at one time been the CEO of AB Sunlight (Sunlight, Inc.) in Nyköping, the city south of Stockholm where Arne and Mother now lived. These two colleagues had both had very unhappy previous life experiences and my friend Sven who was twice my age had been married to a socialite who was a good friend of Jussi Björling and his wife.

Sven said that his wife would party all night and go to bed when he got up to go to work. About Jussi Björling, the world-renowned and wonderful tenor who sang mostly at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, Sven’s wife said that stupid Jussi would have been nothing if it hadn’t been for his highly intelligent wife who organized his career. Usually it’s an agent who does this job, but maybe his wife was his agent.

The same thing is said, by the way, about the fabulous Met soprano, Joan Sutherland, dubbed la Stupenda, who was supposed to owe her great career to her husband, Australian conductor and pianist Richard Bonynge.

When my marriage broke up, Sven invited me to a sumptuous dinner at one of the very best restaurants in Stockholm, Stallmästaregården. He told me this was something he had been wanting to do ever since he knew me, but he had had to wait until I was divorced. He had preordered everything. It was a champagne dinner and the main course was warm lobster (and how I love lobster!) in an unbelievably wonderful sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything better. When the dinner was over, he had them call a taxi and he took me back to my apartment on Östermalm. We got out of the cab, he kissed my forehead and got back into the cab. I was very moved. I have never seen him since, and I think of him quite often, wondering how his life ended.

These two highly educated civil economists, my friend Sven and the other civil economist, Martin, had both become alcoholics and they could no more hold a position in a big company. So there they were, out of place in a vocational school where they taught business subjects to the best students we had, the ones who had opted for a low-level career in business. There were nevertheless several quite bright students there and I taught them English and Swedish.

After my first year, a commercial junior college (Gymnasium) was added to the school under the same principal, but with Sven as the pedagogic director of the new school. In terms of teaching, things became far more interesting for me, since I would now be teaching commercial English and also French. After two years in this junior college, students graduated with a commercial baccalauréat and with about as much pomp and circumstance as at the graduations from an ordinary Gymnasium.

After my divorce I was going to do my student teaching at one of the very best lycées in Stockholm, Statens Normalskola. At that time in Sweden you had to have taught a minimum of two years before you could do your term of student teaching at one of the lycées that were prepared for having teacher candidates. I had sub-rented a furnished apartment on Östermalm that I shared with a young Swedish-Norwegian woman, Brita, who had worked for IBM in California for two years. Her English was perfect and she actually gave me some very good ideas in my lesson preparations for the classes I taught.

I finished my term of student teaching with a good grade and was hired for the following term to teach English, Swedish and – German (!). I first told the principal’s secretary who handled the hiring, that I couldn’t teach German. She said ‘How many years of German did you have in high school?’ I said ‘Seven’. So she decided without batting an eye lid: ‘Of course you can teach it.’ It was the second term of a beginners’ class.

Well, I had to prepare every lesson very carefully so I wouldn’t make any mistakes on the gender of nouns, and similar treacherous things, but it worked pretty well I think.  Even in those days in Sweden you were supposed to speak the foreign language in class, as much as possible, and I believe I managed it not too badly, even though my own German teachers were hopelessly behind and never spoke a word of German in class. I had had some German speaking practice after finishing high school, fortunately.

At this time Arne’s brother Birger’s family were back from five years in Greenwich, Connecticut and that turned out to be a major turn in my life. (See ‘After Stockholm’)

Continued: Chapter 12 — An Interlude in Dreamland

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