The family was reunited after I got back from France. The shattered pieces of my world were settling in, bit by bit.
Arne was now going to teach in my old school in Malmö once again and Mother was in the hospital for psychiatric treatment. After giving up on her career as a photographer, it seemed as if she simply gave up. Mother had to be the star, and when she ceased to be one, the light went out.
There had been no better solution to our family problems. We had been separated by circumstances that nobody could have prevented and now that we were back in our beloved home in Malmö, it was so incredibly sad that Mother wasn’t holding up. She had once been the most wonderful mother, the kind of mother children dream of having. I loved her. I was proud of her. But she broke from the weight of some unseen burden.
Who destroyed her the beautiful butterfly
she was to have been
a twirling fairy
in a beam of light
she was to have been
she was to have been
a golden warm fire
She was sailing up high
Who made her burn her wings on the sun
when she fluttered and fell
until she folded her wings
and never sailed any more
We spent the summer together in Småland close to an uncle’s place, renting an old house that had a wood-burning stove and no refrigerator. However, Mother made delicious food on that stove and she seemed to have gotten back some of her once enormous energy. For cold storage there was an outside cellar about twenty meters from the house that you got into by walking down some steps into a dug-out in the ground. It was primitive but worked very well. My aunt drove us to the closest town to buy the most essential tools we needed for cooking and eating. Arne and Mother never had a car, except the little Fiat Mother had before the war – and they didn’t feel the need for one.
Trains – and streetcars and buses inside the cities – worked fine. I think my uncle lent us some bedding and a table and chairs for eating and that was as much as we needed for a summer with my uncle’s house close by.
Much later, after Arne had inherited a goodly sum of money from a very old aunt, via his mother, he asked me if I thought he should buy a car. Arne didn’t have a driver’s license and since he’s just about the most absent-minded person I’ve ever known, I pointed out to him that in order to drive a car you have to know all the time what is going on not just in front of you but on the sides and behind you as well. He realized that it was not for him and bought a sailboat instead.
Arne had always liked sailing from his childhood summers in Bohuslän. In Malmö we had had two different secondhand sailboats. They were made of wood in those days. His style of sailing was very different from what I got used to on Long Island Sound later on. It was not with water coming in over the lee gunwale and the salty spray on your face. But it was being on the water and it was pleasant sailing among islands, the Danish islands way back or the archipelago off the coast south of Stockholm later on.
One time when John and I visited Arne in Nyköping and Stockholm, the same year we went with him to Drottningholm Theater in fact, 1974, we also went out sailing with Arne in the archipelago off the coast of Nyköping. It was a quiet sailing trip, but very pleasant in the beautiful Baltic archipelago, that is much more wooded than Bohuslän on the west coast. Arne left the tiller to me and that was of course the very best part. I was missing my little Rhodes 19, called Kijé (I love Prokofiev), in New Rochelle.
We stopped on an island for a picnic and we were quite thrilled by seeing a little island to the north, really just a rock sticking out of the Baltic, covered with seals. Certainly not like the huge sea-lions you see cavorting on the little islands off Point Lobos south of Monterey in California, but a thrill nevertheless. You don’t have to go to Scotland to see seals. It wasn’t a big deal but for us city lobbers who love nature in all its forms it added a little thrill to the day in the archipelago.
After we came back from our gypsy-like vacation in Småland our apartment was now the home to just Arne and me. Mona was now definitively established in Lund as a medical student and then for the rest of her life since she was always attached to the university.
For my first term at the University of Lund I took the train back and forth between Malmö and Lund, a very short stretch, and I did what lots of other students from Malmö did, instead of renting a room in Lund. Living at home gave me many advantages. First of all, I had missed having a home and I’d particularly missed Arne very much. We were now back together. Also I now saved quite a bit of money from my study loan on rent and food and that would come in handy for my next summer vacation.
Arne got to be interested in cooking and I followed along. We had fun cooking and eating special treats, and we shared the work fairly. We specialized in European delicacies that Americans wouldn’t touch back then, but that the French are also very fond of. I had not really learned to become a proficient cook in Luxeuil, just to cook certain dishes that were not very often served in Sweden when I was very young, such as Sauerkraut, escalopes de veau, real pommes frites (cooked twice), blanquette de veau, and various simple things like bifteck. And I definitely learned to make a sauce béchamel and a good salad dressing, which has served me wonderfully well ever since.
I still cook blanquette de veau today, a lifetime later, and by a funny coincidence that was actually a mistake, I had given the recipe in Le nouveau livre de cuisine by Blanche Caramel a twist that I will never give up on. The recipe said a bouquet garni should be put in the bouillon. I asked Ulla what that was and she suggested I get it at the épicerie fine in the main street. So off I went and found that they weren’t sure of what it was either. They said thyme, parsley, bay leaves and tarragon. Ok, I got that and everybody seemed to be pleased with my blanquette. It turns out that tarragon isn’t really part of a bouquet garni and so I had mistakenly added an herb that wasn’t supposed to be used according to the standard recipe. I still today put tarragon in my bouillon when I cook a blanquette de veau.
Arne and I invited guests and I was the hostess and enjoyed it immensely. One of Arne’s very best friends, an army officer who was supposed to go very far (which indeed he did) and who was at the time stationed in Ystad, colonel at Ystad regiment, was one of our guests. He and his family came for dinner a few times, and I clearly remember cooking wienerschnitzel once. I do hope I didn’t do it twice. That became one of my specialties and it had always been a favorite dish of ours when the whole family was still together.
I will never forget how this old classmate of Arne’s from Stockholm, a handsome man with enormous charm, was laughing so hard with Arne when they were talking about old days that he was lying back on Mother’s sofa-bed, laughing until he nearly choked.
The people we had sublet the apartment to had unfortunately moved our furniture around because they insisted on having a dining room, so Mother’s nice little salon was no more. Her wide divan was now in the living room. We kept it that way until Arne and Mother left Malmö for a small city south of Stockholm where Arne got his tenured post as a Gymnasium teacher. In the meantime, we didn’t care much and that term Mother wasn’t around to miss her own room.
Arne was an excellent teacher and my interest in history, which has only increased with years, was grounded in Arne’s stories and from the history books he passed me from his bookshelves about subjects I wanted to know more about.
One day we took the ferry to Copenhagen and lived it up. I don’t remember what reason we had for going, if any, except that Arne invited me to the quite new and expensive restaurant, called ‘Sy små hjem‘ — Seven little homes. They have indeed seven very different rooms and you pick the style that pleases you the most. We had filêt de beouf with sauce béarnaise, which I remember because I had never had it with sauce béarnaise before. It was all very good, but John and I have since decided that Sy små hjem isn’t worth the price you pay. It’s strictly for tourists.
But I enjoyed immensely being spoiled by Arne who is very rarely a big spender. We just walked around looking at nice places in Copenhagen and enjoying ourselves. Arne has always been a formidable walker, just not in the Swedish mountains where he felt like a fish out of water. I remember in later years walking around Paris with him on one of his numerous visits during the thirteen years we lived there. I felt barely capable of keeping up with him. I like to walk, but big cities can be very tiring. Stockholm was the same for John and me much later on. Arne wanted to take me to lunch in a really nice restaurant but we had a lot of trouble finding one. We were in the area south of the Opera when we finally had to settle for a place that wasn’t quite what he had had in mind, but we had a good lunch anyway.
We used to kid Arne about preferring to go to places that he knew of, not places that we recommended, but one time it was a complete hit. Someone had told him about a restaurant called L’Ami Louis in the 3e arrondissement, far from the usual chic restaurant areas. OK, we said, let Arne decide himself where he wants to take us for the big dinner out. We ordered lamb roast and a Bourgogne vieux that the sommelier assured us was very good. Arne tasted it and said immediately ‘No this is not quite it’. I agreed, but strangely enough, John thought it was fine. John knows wines much better than I do. So Arne ordered a much more expensive wine, millésimé of course, because he wanted this to be the best. The wine came and I tasted it, after having had some of the lamb already. It was heavenly. I don’t think I’ll ever have such a Bourgogne vieux ever again, even though I’ve had some very good ones with our wine expert friends or with John and me alone. Arne was very pleased and the evening was a big success.
Arne and Mother moved to a much smaller city called Nyköping at the end of the school year. I helped them move even though I didn’t do much to help, just really keeping them company. Arne wanted to be close to Stockholm so he could go to the theaters and the opera regularly. He wrote theater reviews for the local paper and that way his expenses were paid for. I read some of them and they were probably just about the best theater reviews I’ve ever read. He knew theater so thoroughly that he would start out by giving the background to the play. I felt awed by both his style of writing and his knowledge.
Arne also knew the cultural director of the Swedish radio very well and this man, C.H. made him give two radio lectures for the Swedish radio, first about French theater after the Revolution and, later, about Sarah Bernard. He gave me the tapes of both lectures, which we had transferred to audio cassettes since old-fashioned tape recorders were disappearing. Later we’ve had them transferred to CDs. The lecture about Sarah Bernard who was unique in the history of the theater, the little woman with the most amazing stage presence imaginable, ended with a recording of her own voice, which was a stroke of genius. The excerpt is from L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand, a play about the son of Napoleon 1st, who was also called King of Rome. But added to this was the amazing fact that C.H. had managed to persuade the old man Sven Jerring, Sweden’s very first radio announcer, to do the presentation of the program. This made the whole lecture a piece of history on Swedish radio. I could hardly believe it, but C.H. who was an old childhood friend of Arne’s, even though younger, had a lot of influence in the cultural world in Sweden. And so he managed the big deal and Sven Jerring accepted – which seems to me an absolute miracle. Sven Jerring whose ‘Childrens’ mailbox’ we had listened to, and never missed, every Thursday afternoon at 5, the man who was the Swedish radio way back in the very old days, was still willing to do the presentation in the 70s when Arne was working on his radio lecture.
On the French stage, at least at the Comédie française, it has always been a tradition to precede the opening of a play by three strokes on the floor of the stage with a heavy wooden stick called le brigadier. It’s ‘les trois coups’ and it is magic. Sarah Bernard had had to get a leg amputated as a result of a wound in her right leg and so had been absent from the stage for a long time. She came back though, courageous into the very end. On her first performance after her long absence, the audience was anxiously waiting to find out how she was going to make her entrance with a wooden leg. The tension was growing. Finally les trois coups sounded and the voice of a very nasty theater critic was heard over the whole theater – ‘Tiens, la voilà!’.
One day I happened to put my hand on a little book in my Swedish bookcase that turned out to be Arne’s booklet about Professor Agne Beijer (1888 – 1975) and his enormous work to give new life to the old Drottningholm theater (Drottningholms Slottsteater). The booklet was published in 1982 by and for “Föreningen Drottningholmsteaterns Vänner“. 1 The theater dates from the 18th century and the time of Gustav III, Arne’s favorite king, the theater king. It had been forgotten by everybody, except by Agne Beijer after his first visit from Kungliga Biblioteket in search of a painting.
The story begins when, one late winter day in 1921, Agne Beijer more or less by coincidence visited what was then a storage place for Drottningholms museum in the old theater building. He was there mainly to look for a famous painting which was rumored to be stored there. He and the other two men, who had been sent there from the Royal Library (Kungliga Biiblioteket) found the precious painting. However, in passing through wide rooms and narrow passageways the men also found, hidden under dust a meter thick, strange objects, which later turned out to be stage sets (des coulisses), stage machinery and props. Agne Beijer was all set on getting this treasure restored for cultural history. The outcome of this amazing discovery and Agne Beijer’s immediate insight and his work on getting the theater restored, was that Sweden now had a world-famous theater museum, in many ways the richest theater museum in existence in the world.
And that is where my stepfather, Arne, comes in. Arne had studies the history of theater with Agne Beijer and admired him immensely, the man himself and his great knowledge in the various aspects of the history of theater.
He also managed to revive the theater and to make it, once again, an opera stage for the public. Copies were actually made of all the stage sets and machinery, so that the restored originals would not risk being damaged.
Arne was a student of Agen Beijer’s at what was then called Stockholms Högskola (later Stockholm University) and the two theater men became great friends. Arne became his assistant and he was very involved in the restoration of the theater museum and had ideas for how to make money to keep the work going when money was short. Because of the harsh times during World War II and the foreign audience drying up, Arne suggested that they open up the theater for associations and various educational groups. It worked and the theater’s finances were saved.
Ane spent a huge amount of work to produce this enormously well written and well documented booklet. He gave it the great attention that it definitely deserved. Once in the early 80s when he was still well enough to travel to Paris to see us, me and John, he said “I have now proofread Agne’s book a third (or maybe fourth) time. Now I can die.” (He had very nearly died a year earlier in Helsinki.) He lived quite a few more years after saying those words, but in 1986 he became seriously ill. His heart was giving up. I went to Sweden, Landskrone, which city Arne had moved to for company, something that was essential to Arne. I hugged him and he could barely form the words “Du är snäll du.” (You are a good person.) I will always remember those words. He died a few days after that. He had said that he wanted his funeral to be a a happy event. Which it was.
But going back in history I remember well the wonderful day (probably in 1950) when Arne took me and my sister Gun on a tour behind the stage of Drottningnolmsteatern. He was very proud, and understandably so, by the fact that he had worked there with ‘Agne’ (as he called him) as they dragged out old stage sets and sorted the dusty piles in the back-stage areas. Arne was born in 1907, so obviously he got into the task quite late in the story of sorting and getting the valuable objects cleaned up and catalogued. It would have been in the thirties that he became a close friend of Agne Beijer and also studied and passed the exam in ‘Teaterhistoria’ with his friend and mentor.
Arne showed us the movable rough-sea-water back-stage machine, the wind machine that Queen Elizabeth of England was shown a few years later on her visit with Prince Phillip, and generally what there was to be seen in this historic theater. Our king, Gustaf VI Adolf, was there of course, and there is a photo of the three in Arne’s extraordinary little booklet.
My sister and i were rightfully awed when we understood the work that had taken place and the extraordinary discovery made by Agne Beijer on his first visit, with two other young men from Kungliga Biblioteket, in search of a painting. They found the painting, but Agne Beijer found so much more. At the time, he could only guess what those huge objects were that were sticking out into the passages where they were walking.
History was taking place.
When John and I were in Stockholm in 1974 , Arne invited us to see a Händel opera at the Drottnigholm theater. The three of us took the boat for Drottningholm from its mooring place at the City Hall.
There was a drizzle in the air and heavy black clouds in the west and the north. We were moving west on Lake Mälaren past large and small green and rocky islands, and there was an abrupt shower. But as we got closer to Drottningholm, the rain stopped. As I
looked back a bit to the north, there were heavy grey clouds over an island that we had just passed and at the same time the sun was coming through in the west, over the palace. It was a magic mixture of heavy drama behind us and sunny lightness over the grand old palace. It seemed like Nature’s own magnificent prelude to the historic event that was ahead of us.
We first walked around in the vast French gardens of this almost 300 year-old royal palace, went all the way to the Chinese Pavilion (Kina slott) and were struck by the resemblance to the gardens of le Château de Versailles.
The Händel opera was “Ottone” and it was magic sitting in this old theater listening to an opera, basically the same way it had been performed in the same place 200 years before.
The theater, which is not big at all, since it was to begin with just for the royal family, sits right next to the palace, Drottingholms slott.
Inside, everything has of course been renovated but kept the same way it used to be. All the old lighting, wind and stormy sea effects were just the way they had been from the beginning of the theater. The 18th century-style sets made you feel as if you had gone back a couple of hundred years in history.
Way back in the late forties, Arne had given Gun and me a tour of the theater, behind the stage and all. It was fascinating seeing this 18th century theater and the old-fashioned props that were used for instance to give the impression of rolling waves in the background. Very simple but very convincing. And of course thunder and other special effects. Nowadays the original scenery and stage props are not used any more, but exact copies have been made that are used in their place. The original curtain was carefully repaired though and is still in use. In the middle of the front row are the seats for the king and the queen and a few royal attendants, not in a balcony to the right of the stage as in the Royal Dramatic theater and the Royal Opera today. The velvet cloth on the seats in the front row has golden crowns spread over a blue background.
Arne was so anxious to finish this precious little book in memory of his mentor and friend, Agne Beijer, that when he was 75 and the book was finished he said ‘Now I can die because I’ve done the last proofreading of Agne’s book’. He lived four more years and he was pleased to know how much I appreciated his booklet.
Continued: Chapter 14 — Stockholm and some history
- AGNE BEIJER — En minnesteckning — Av Arnbe Lydén Utgiven av Föreningen Drottningholmsteaterns Vänner (AGNE BEIJER — In memoriam — By Arne Lydén — Published by The Association ‘Friends of Drottningholm Theater’ ↩