My four-year stint in Stockholm came to an end after I had finished my student teaching which was followed by my one-term regular teaching. I felt very lonely that whole year when I was working at the lycée Statens Normalskola. Tante Gerda was my savior. I spent a lot of time with her and before I moved into my sub-rented apartment on Riddargatan on Östermalm, I even used her little spare room behind the kitchen for short periods of time.
This room was empty now since Tante Gerda’s wonderful housekeeper, Dagmar, had moved back to her province, Värmland, quite a few years earlier. She got married at about the age of 45 and opened a dry-cleaning business. She left for Värmland some time in the fifties, without ever losing touch with Tante Gerda or the family. Dagmar had been with Tante Gerda ever since her very young age. In fact she was just about Arne’s age, and she started working with them as a housekeeper when he was a student at Stockholm University, then called Stockholms Högskola. Dagmar was a wonderful person and she never forgot us — nor we, her. Every Christmas we all received, Tante Gerda, Arne and Birger a tin with the most delicious homemade Christmas cookies. For years and years this went on. She babysat with my cousins, Maud and Agneta, when they were little, before they moved to the U.S. in 1956. They gave her the nickname Dadda, which still persists when we talk about her.
The year of my student teaching, Tante Gerda and I did many things together. I remember one time we went to see ‘The Millionaress’ with Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers, and I was amazed at how Tante Gerda admired the looks of Sophia Loren. It’s the movie that became famous for the song ‘Goodness gracious me’, hilariously funny. We walked to the movie theater, which was not far from where Tante Gerda lived, when she was already close to 80. She had always been a good walker. We looked at her old photo albums until late in the night, and I heard more of her fairytale stories from her youth, when she traveled in France and Italy quite regularly in the summer with her Tante Anna and her husband, farbror Ernst.
We had of course seen a lot of Arne’s mother very regularly during my high school and university days. For one thing we spent Christmas together, at least after Birger and family had left for Greenwich, Connecticut for a 5-year stint . Either she came to Malmö or, later, to Nyköping. Exceptionally, we went to Stockholm. That was when Dagmar was still around. But when I started coming to Stockholm on my own, I saw even more of Tante Gerda. After my divorce from Roland, she took me under her wing and I very much appreciated her concern and care. Arne and his family got to be the most stable family I’d ever had.
That same year, after Roland and I separated, I was also introduced to Verdi by a student-teacher colleague. A friend of hers was singing in “Rigoletto” and she asked me if I would like to come along. Of course I did. Wonderful. Arne had never introduced me to Verdi and it was a wonderful discovery. I knew some of the music from the radio, but not much. Birgit Nordin, who was then an ascending star, sang Gilda wonderfully well. My friend and I also later saw “La Traviata” with the fabulous soprano Margareta Hallin as Violetta. Hallin was one of our most famous sopranos and a couple of years later I saw her again in Malmö in “Otello“, where she played a wonderful Desdemona. It was a guest performance by the Royal Opera. Sten Broman, a musician, a music critic and one of the most colorful and eccentric intellectual personae in his days, at least in the south of Sweden, had acclaimed her as being the best soprano in the world at the time. Well, however that may be, this was also the era of la Tebaldi, so he
may just have been a bit biased in his judgement. Renata Tebaldi in Verdi and Puccini is, as I see it, pure perfection and heaven to listen to. We have a CD of her singing “La Forza del Destino” as Leonora against Mario del Monaco, one of the tenor superstars at the Metropolitan Opera of that era. It’s an absolute dream, and it is la Tebaldi I admire the most.
However, when you heard Margareta Hallin sing, you tended to almost believe Sten Broman’s somewhat quixotic judgement. It is said that the only reason why she never performed at the Met in New York City was because she didn’t speak English. I find that a bit hard to believe, but the fact is that she was invited and that she said No thanks.
I would see “La Traviata” five years later at the “Baths of Caracalla” in Rome, the gorgeous old Roman ruins from the 3rd century AD, now beautifully restored. They were once the second largest Roman public baths, or terme., The performance was excellent, and Alfredo was sung by — Guess who! — Luciano Pavarotti. This was in 1966 and singing at the “Baths of Caracalla” was clearly not to be frowned upon. Also, I was melting when the father sang his wonderful aria ‘Di Provenza il mar’, which I have loved ever since the first time I heard it. At the time I was chaperoning a group of thirteen American girls after having spent two years in Westchester, NY, teaching French at Mount Vernon High School. The travel agency, ‘Simmons Travel Tours’, that organized this 8-week tour of Europe had scheduled the visit to the ‘Baths of Caracalla’, which date from the 3rd century BC, and that was one of the few things they had done right on this long tour. I
An interlude is due here since I just found, going through a stack of my old programs, quite a few Dramaten programs that had escaped my attention until now. Tucked away in with those was the program from this very performance at I terme di Caracalla. I could hardly believe who sang Alfredo that time. It was a tenor called Luciano Pavarotti!!! Also, the baritone, who made my heart almost melt when he sang “Di Provenza il mar”, was Attilio D’Orazi. He has also sung at the New York Metropolitan Opera — Marcello in “La Bohème” in 1965 for instance, with Luiciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo. Mirella Freni made her debut at the Met as Mimi at that performance. I realized that the cast at the Baths of Caracalla was outstanding, but since I did not know of Luciano Pavarotti at the time, it took me decades to find out that he was Alfredo in that performance.
Since then, partly thanks to John, I have gotten to know a lot of operas by various composers, but before Stockholm my experience was limited to Mozart. In the days of 78s, you either went to see the opera or you were limited to overtures and excerpts. We did have overtures by Wagner and von Weber, and also some excerpts. Arne once heard me singing “Winterstürme wichen den Wonnemond” in the kitchen with a strong Wagnerian voice and he came out from his room and said “You are singing Wagner.” I said “I know.” He seemed quite pleased and a little impressed. After that one line I knew the music but not the words, so I hummled. Ta da tada, tadatada– da tada ta datatatada. I didn’t lnow die Walküre but I knew this aria.
Arne and Birger had grown up with opera in Stockholm, but we had no opera in Malmö. I wonder if they do today since Malmö Stadsteater has now become Malmö Opera. Possible. Even though I am not a Wagner fan, I did however, like “Das Reingold” which John and I saw at the Paris Opera in a somewhat ridiculous stage set with the Rhine maidens in rocking chairs, which seemed somewhat far-fetched. Opera directors are bending backwards today to come up with some thing that has never been done before. They did “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Paris Opera on an almost empty stage. I remember a grand piano in one act and that was all there was. And “La Traviata” in modern costumes and a sterile white stage I don’t go for that at all.
Verdi and Puccini are now my favorite opera composers, and if there is ever one opera that surpasses all the others for me, it would be Puccini’s “La Bohème’” The story and the music move me profoundly and it somehow seems less artificial to me than the great Verdi operas. The student and bohemian milieu appeals more to me than the very distant aristocratic milieu in “La Traviata ” or the princely machinations in “Rigoletto”. Of course “”La Bohème”and “La Traviata” are both about heroines who die of consumption, but the similarity ends there. “”La Bohème” is so much more down-to-earth and believable. And the music is so excruciatingly beautiful that I still get tears in my eyes every time I hear Mimi and Rodolfo sing at the end of the opera. It is almost as moving as the very end of Verdi’s Requiem at the very last notes, ‘Libera me’.
Now that my student teaching was over, I was looking for a post somewhere suitable. My uncle Birger and his family had just come back from their five-year stint in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maud had just graduated from high school and I had seen her briefly in the fall of 1961 at Tante Gerda’s place, now a young woman instead of the 12-year-old girl I had last seen. The family moved to the U.S. before I got married and I just had a chance of introducing Roland to them the summer before they left, when they were at their summer place on a lake south of Stockholm. I had clearly already decided, in 1956, that I needed Roland for stability if I was going to be able to make it through a difficult life with a shaky beginning. I did later on get much more self-confidence and my own inner stability.
I missed Birger and his family all the five years they were gone. When I found that there would be a post free in Trollhättan in Västergörland, not far from Göteborg and very close to where Birger and his family were going to live in Lilla Edet, I didn’t hesitate to apply for it. Birger was now the CEO for all the various businesses of a wealthy industrialist and ship owner.
I got the post in Trollhättan. I found a small apartment that was far from chic but I cheered it up inside, painted the kitchen cabinets and installed fixtures in the bathroom which was very bare. I put up nice curtains and drapes, hiding the niche where my bed was and which made for a tiny bedroom. I bought some nice furniture in Göteborg, which is not far away. I had kept my wonderful sofa that I had bought with my first-earned money from a part-time teaching job before my marriage. I also ordered a high dark brown bookcase from a company that sold them by mail order. Later, when I moved to the United States, Pappa ordered a second one of the same kind for me. We are still using those two bookcases — and some others.
I put up some very nice plants, an aralia elegantissima a superbly delicate and beautiful plant, and a colorful croton. Those plants have been my favorites ever since. I put up Masri(s painting, gift from Jean, on the wall.. When Maud and Birger came to see me they were astounded at how nice it looked inside after they’d seen the drab exterior of the building.
I very often went to see Birger and his family at the big estate that had been renovated to suit their needs by the Swedish-Norwegian industrialist, Håkon Onstad. It was a beautiful place with a big park where we were once invited on a Sunday to rake leaves, all five of us plus a boyfriend of Maud’s. It was really a lot of fun, and it was, as I understood, an idea of Anna-Brita’s, my aunt if you like, but really more like a friend. She clearly thought we could all do with a bit of exercise. I had always liked Anna-Brita a lot ever since the days of my youth when they lived in Stockholm. This raking of leaves was really a joke, and it was fun. I am sure we had a very nice lunch after our work-out.
I was now a French and English teacher at Trollhättan lycée. No more teaching of Swedish or German, which I had done before but not enjoyed very much. I was a full-fledged teacher and I even had a teacher candidate of my own. Trollhättan was a bit dull of course, a small town in the middle of nowhere, but what made that year very pleasant was the vicinity of Lilla Edet where Birger’s family lived, as well as Göteborg and its very good city theater being not far away. It was easy to get to by train or by bus.
The funny thing was that I had Maud as my student in a French class. Even though she had graduated from a U.S. high school she still had to add two years in a Swedish Gymnasium to get her Swedish graduation (studentexamen) and be able to study at the university. Maud was sitting in the front row, right in front of me, and her friend Christer next to her, and I see her as always raising her hand, very discretely, even when nobody else had the answer to my question.
I luckily made friends with a couple of young colleagues who were also interested in reading, music and theater. There was the tall and somewhat ungainly dark-haired fellow, Stig, a Swedish teacher, and there was also an art teacher whose father’s’ home was in Göteborg and whose name was Olof. We became a triumvirate without anything other than comradeship involved, which made the threesome work out well. Olof’s father was an artist and one day we just skipped over to Göteborg and spent more or less the day at his father’s atelier enjoying his dad’s very good record collection. That was when I diiscovered Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’. It was immediate love and I have loved it ever since.
Sweden was not a backward country and there was, for our great benefit, a ‘theater bus’ that would take us from Trollhättan to Göteborg and leave us off just in front of the entrance to Göteborgs Stadsteater (Gothenburg City Theater). At the end of the performance the bus was waiting for us and brought us back home to Trollhättan or wherever we came from. The distance from Göteborg to Trollhättan is just over 60 kilometers or 40 miles so it was quite feasible to see a play in Göteborg in the evening and actually get up to teach the next morning. We were young.
From those days I can even remember reading Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ until the early morning hours, being so fascinated that I couldn’t get myself to turn off the light. I was in love with ‘The Idiot’. Oh the days of youth! Do I miss them? No, not really.
I saw quite a few excellent plays at Göteborgs Stadsteater, but the performance I remember the most vividly was ‘The Good Woman of Setzuan’ by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Staffan Aspelin. This play puts the unsolvable question to the audience “How can a good person live in a world that is mainly evil?”
One weekend in the early fall we were all invited to come to Håkon’s summer house on the coast to pick mushrooms on his island. All five of us Birger, Anna-Brita, my cousins Maud and Agneta and I got into Anna-Brita’s big Amercian car that she loved to drive. Håkon’s summer house is right on the coast of the gorgeous province of Bohuslän, which stretches out along the west coast north of Göteborg. Håkon had an old motorboat which he manoeuvred himself and that took us to his island. His wife Brita, an old childhood friend of Arne’s, though younger, was in Sweden for once. She liked Swedish summers but spent most of the year in Switzerland, where she loved doing downhill skiing, though she was well past the age of fifty, and where her youngest son, Tommy, also went to school.
We walked around the island, the five of us and also Håkon’s wife Brita and his Norwegian sister. Arne had told me beforehand that Håkon’s sister was mainly heard saying nydelig (= nice) in Norwegian and nothing much else. I saw a bracelet on her arm that made me do a double-take. It must have been one of the most expensive pieces of jewelry I’ve probably ever seen. It was a mass of diamonds and blue sapphires, which I love. It was clearly a gift from Håkon, who took good care of his family.
When we got back to this big summer house after the mushroom picking, the girls went to a room set aside for us to change into suitable but simple dinner dress. They had put us, the young people, at a separate table in the huge dining room and it was going to be one more crayfish dinner for Håkon and Brita. The crayfish, or so they told Håkon, were fished in his own waters somewhere in Småland. It was very important to him that everything possible should come from his own land and waters..
A son from Brita’s previous marriage, Göran L, was there with his new and very young wife, Christina L, a cousin of his, who had just come over from the U.S., where she had gone to school. Håkon’s and Brita’s young son, eight-year-old Tommy, was seen around here and there, but he was probably in bed when we had our crayfish supper. I had heard quite a bit about young Christina L. from Tante Gerda, since Brita’s mother was one of her closest friends. I had been told that she had studied art history in the U.S. before the marriage and I had assumed that it was in college. Håkon was an art collector and there are beautiful art works in both his houses, his main residence being Munkedal, also in Bohuslän. We, the young people, the newly married L cousins, my cousins Maud and Agneta and I, went over to our table which happened to be right under a beautiful painting. I had recently discovered Vlaminck, the post-impressionist painter whom I had gotten to like, in particular the paintings that are reminiscent of Cézanne and especially later ones from his fauvist period, where he’s an equal of Derain. This happened to be a painting that had a clear imprint of Vlaminck. I liked it and since Christina had studied art, or so I had been told, I spontaneously said Oh, that’s a beautiful Vlaminck, or some such thing. Christina didn’t say a word. I concluded that she had never taken art as a major in college. She probably took art classes in high school, or she just hadn’t gotten to the post-impressionists yet in college. Clearly the name of Vlaminck did not mean anything to her.
But the funniest part of the evening, even though the crayfish were very good, was in the kitchen afterwards when we, the young ones, helped dry the silver. Gottfried, Håkon’s butler, was clearly used to getting some help when the maid (or possibly the cook, I don’t remember) washed the dishes. We didn’t say ‘du’ very generally in Sweden at the time, and anyway Gottfried would never have said ‘du’ to any of us, even today. At the time we used the third person when talking respectfully to people or to anybody we didn’t know. I always used the 3rd person when addressing Tante Gerda and so did Maud and Agneta. I and my sister Gun did too when addressing our own grandmother, until one day she had enough of it (mormor, mormor, mormor) and told us to say ‘du’. This evening Gottfried glorified in using Christina’s title as a baroness. He put it into his sentences so often that it got to be laughable. Of course Håkon was rich, very rich, but he was not nobility. So Gottfried was very pleased to be using a nobility title that evening.
That year I had my 30th birthday in February, and it was a near disaster. I was newly divorced and I felt that my life was over. It was basically a year of great depression but still saved because of Birger and his family.
Arne had asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I said I would love Beethoven’s 9th symphony or a ring, since I didn’t wear my wedding band with small sapphires any more. What I got was a worn copy of his own 9th symphony conducted by Toscanini, a wonderful recording. But it was so worn that you heard the scratchy noise throughout it all. They had also bought me a ring that Tante Gerda had contributed to. It was a cheap-looking gold ring with a red stone that looked like colored glass. I never wore it. I broke down in tears and I now definitely thought that my life was over. I cried desperately and felt totally unloved. When I think back on that day, I find it hard to believe how, in spite of my disappointment, in particular the scratchy record and Arne’s thoughtlessness, I could really feel as if my life was over at the age of thirty. It was probably more that I felt completely abandoned.
That evening I was due at the estate of my new family, however. So I dried my tears and tried to fix my face a bit so as to cover over my red eyes. When I arrived there, chauffered by Maud most likely, Håkon also happened to be there for the evening, just by a very lucky coincidence. But he had been told that it was my birthday and he had sent for a huge box of chocolates. I had neve even seen such a huge-sized box of chocolates, and I felt that it was very thoughtful of Håkon. Birger gave me a nice set of luggage, a very pretty smallish white suitcase and a matching beauty-box, which one used in those days. The fact that they clearly came from one of Håkon’s paper and cardboard factories didn’t make it less precious to me. They served me well for many years.
After dinner was over, we moved into the family living room, where Anna-Brita always made dry martinis before dinner, her specialty and her favorite drink. That’s how I got to like dry martinis – gin, a slight touch of Noilly Prat, and a twist of lemon. I’ve never wanted them any other way. I remember vividly how Håkon entertained me with stories of how he loved skiing in the deep forests. The strong and silent man. This was of course a clear contrast to his wife’s downhill skiing in Switzerland at expensive ski resorts. Anna-Brita said afterwards that he just wanted to impress me and that she was sure he had never done any such skiing. I thought she was a bit unfair. Maybe he had in his Norwegian youth. And besides, I thought it was sweet of him to want to impress me with his Viking virility.
My birthday had been saved by the evening with my wonderful new family. I had always felt very close to them all, ever since my early youth, but that year they definitely got to be my family.
Formal Swedish dinners — of yesteryear, I hope
When Birger and Anna-Brita had their big formal dinners in the huge dining room with the very high windows and the gorgeous chandeliers, they rented waiters, and a cook of course, at least one, and it was amusing to an innocent young woman like me to see how you had barely touched your wineglass when a waiter was next to you filling it up. There must never be an empty glass. In Sweden, as in many other countries, it is customary to serve soup before the main course, lobster soup being the most fashionable kind. I particularly remember one such dinner when, after the soup, there was veal cordon bleu for the main course. The rest of the menu I don’t remember. There were roughly twenty guests at the table and the formal Swedish tradition is that the hostess has to toast every guest. She has to pretend that she is taking a sip from her wine glass every time she says ‘skål’ to a guest. She also has to be the last one to finish eating. It is, however, a bit of a mystery to me how she can remember which ones she has already toasted.
I remember that I was only toasted at the very end since I was the youngest one there, and Birger also forgot to have pity on me. One other young woman was the wife of the young disponent, the assistant of the owner of the paper factory Lilla Edet, the owner being his father. This paper factory has since the 19th century produced all the toilet paper, paper towels and more to all Swedish households. Young Haeger was my bordskavalier and of course he saw to it that I wouldn’t go wineless through the dinner. If this had been today, I think I would have ignored the silly protocol, running the risk that people were going to think I didn’t know any better. You are, according to the old-fashioned Swedish tradition, not supposed to lift your wineglass unless someone says Skål to you, always an older person to a younger one. But – within a couple of minutes you must return the toast. Just never toast the hostess, which would be a major faux pas. These stuffy old customs are certainly abandoned today. I hope.
For a formal dinner like this each one of the men is discretely told by the host in the salon, while a glass of champagne or whatever is being served, who the woman is that he is to have as his bordsdam, lady at the table. You usually do more talking with the person you are thus placed with than with the other people around you and in my case it was not a problem. Young Haeger was a modern young man and we also had common acquaintances in Malmö from his own family. His uncle used to be my doctor and his cousin Anita had once been a classmate and friend of my sister. Young Haeger’s wife Elizabeth, was also easy to talk to since she loved France and especially Paris and its fashion shows. I made it clear to her that my Paris was in no way the same as hers, but we chatted on happily anyway in the salon after dinner.
But I get ahead of events here. After dinner there is a very important ceremony that takes place. The hostess positions herself just beyond the entrance from the dining room to the salon and all the guests more or less line up to shake her hand and say their polite thanks for a wonderful dinner. I of course did the same but I am sure I sneaked a little wink to Anna-Brita so we could make a little discreet fun of the entire ceremony. She, the châtelaine, obviously had to keep a straight and politely smiling face. Which Anna-Brita did with supreme command of the situation.
There are always speeches held at the dinner table, but not before the dessert. So while your poire belle Hélène is melting on your plate you have to show appreciation for the various speeches, always followed by a general toast. The lucky man who has the great honor of having the hostess as his bordsdam, now stands up as the last speaker and delivers his more or less inspired and witty speech of thanks to the hostess.
But there were above all quiet family evenings which still usually started with dry martinis in the cosy living room with Birger’s and Anna-Brita’s own furniture. I also vividly remember one evening when I was over at Maud’s and Agneta’s end of the big house and I suddenly heard beautiful piano music. There was no hi-fi set in the house so I walked out to see where it came from. It was Birger who had just come home from work and who was playing a Schubert sonata on the grand piano in the salon. This grand room was never used except for formal events, but their own grand piano was there and Birger was a very good pianist. I didn’t know he was that good and I was very impressed and told him so. I remember that Birger was given a very good hi-fi set by Tante Gerda and Arne together for his 50th birthday. But there was no big dinner for that event, just a quiet family dinner;
On some evenings we watched television in the TV room when some special program was on. It was tucked away in what used to be the servants’ quarters but since they had no servants, those rooms were mainly left empty. I remember we were watching Birgit Nilsson singing in a Wagner opera. I have never been a Wagner fan like John, but I was interested in listening to Birgit anyway. The others dropped off, one by one, and Birger and I were the only ones left to watch it. Birger said suddenly. ‘I’ve never understood what is so remarkable about Birgit Nilsson. Do you?’ I said very honestly that I agreed. Since then, I have, with John’s influence, learned to really like some of her singing, but I am still not a real Wagner fan. Arne too liked Wagner very much, and also liked Birgit Nilsson. That was probably the reason why Birger asked for my opinion. What I do appreciate about Birgit Nilsson is her wonderful sense of humor and her raunchy and musical laugh. She says herself that she learned to developed her strong voice when she was a young girl calling the cows in every evening.
This brings to mind one time in Paris when I asked Arne “Don’t you find Wagner a bit too pompous?” Arne thought for a second. He was always anxious to give the exactly right answer, never come up with rash judgments. He finally said, very thoughtfully ‘No, I would rather say that perhaps he is not pompous enough.’ That was of course a bit tongue–in-cheek, but Arne really did go for the pompous once in a while.
Another evening of TV stands out even more in my mind. The program was Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, which I liked a lot. I do think I like everything by Vivaldi. But this was a wonderfully arranged program where the music was interspersed with the sonnets the music was based on. They were presumably written by Vivaldi himself. I did not at all know those poems and the result of the alternation of music and sonnets was superbly arranged and made for a very dramatic musical program. For the first time I really sensed why the hot and dry summer was the most feared season in Italy. It had until then been a mystery to me why Vivaldi’s portraying of summer was so dour.
The first two lines in the summer sonnet:
“Under the merciless sun / Languishes man and ﬂock; the pine tree burns,” set the tone right away.
Birger also had a funny talent he liked to amuse us all with. He went into the salon and we stayed in the living room next-door. He babbled on in something that for all the world sounded like fluent French. The thing is that Birger didn’t know any French at all and it really seemed like a mystery. He could have fooled any Frenchman I’m sure with that act.
Another time we were invited to spend the day with Håkon at his main home, Munkedal estate in Bohuslän too, not very far from the summer house on the coast. Brita was in Switzerland, but the manager for one of Håkon’s factories in Västmanland and his wife were invited that day. I chuckled when Håkon introduced me to this couple as lektor Thulin, my married name which I had kept. In Sweden it used to be polite, for old-timers, to use a title somewhat higher than the real one. A silly habit which no doubt came, along with the overuse of titles, from Germany, where all men with an academic title in the old days used to be referred to as Herr Doktor. I was very simply an ‘adjunkt‘ at the lycée and in order to get a post as ‘lektor‘ you normally had to have a Ph.D. or at least a pre-doctoral diploma which also requires research. I was actually surprised that Håkon knew about those titles at all, but clearly he had received some information.
We had lunch in the small dining room and I remember vividly Gottfried standing in the background on the long side overlooking the whole table to see if anybody was missing anything, if everything was in its right place. A good butler or waiter does not let anybody sit and wait for his glass to be refilled or to be wanting for some more broccoli.
After lunch and coffee in the living room, I don’t remember exactly what was on the program, but I do remember that it did not concern me. So I felt free to walk around a bit and I ended up in Håkon’s study. I had never been to this house before. His study was a very elegant room that didn’t really look as if it was being used. It was big and elegant and the desk bore no traces of paper work. I was standing in front of a beautiful Modigliani painting when Håkon happened to come by. There were many precious paintings in his two big estates but I mostly remember the Vlaminck at the summer house and this Modigliani because I commented on them. I said to Håkon “That’s a beautiful Modigliani”. tt so happened that it was not signed. But if there is a modern painter that you can not fail to recognize it is certainly Modigliani. Håkon was pleasantly impressed because I knew the painter and he said so in his Swedish that had remained heavily tinted with his Norwegian lilt.He said, sounding very pleased “Oh, you know Modigliani!.” I said I liked him a lot, which I do, even though he is somewhat weird. Håkon came farther into the room and he said with a little smile that I should stop using his title when addressing him. In other words, we were now friends, not an inferior and a superior person.
That did not mean that I would ever call him ‘du‘, but simply Håkon, the way Anna-Brita did. Birger certainly said ‘du‘ as man to man. His title was long and complicated, skeppsredaren in Swedish, which means ship owner. He and his younger brother Niels had started out in shipping in Oslo, a branch in his widely branched business empire that Birger was not concerned with. I probably did what we often did in those days in Sweden — I avoided using his title at all, which was the best way of getting out of the stuffy titles in those awkward days. This time, however, I may well have used his awkward title to make him say what he did say. Please stop using my title. So it was now Håkon and Siv, much better, even though we still would not say ‘du’. Håkon by the way, was twice my age, almost exactly. Funny I seem to appeal to men who are twice my age. Sven Frösell was twice my age when I was 25 and now Håkon when I was 30.
Håkon had moved to Sweden in the thirties with his shipping company, while his brother who was a co-owner moved to the United States. They clearly felt that Norway was already threatened by an impending Nazi occupation.
This exaggerated use of titles and the third person is long gone now in Sweden, and a good thing that is. I recently read an interview with Håkon’s son who was eight at the time when I saw his shy face at Holma at the time of the crayfish supper. Tommy , well Thomas, is now the main owner of Håkon’s network of factories, inside and outside of Sweden. There was no sign of any pompousness between the interviewer and Håkon’s son. It was as simple as things are today in Sweden, ‘du’ on both sides. Times have indeed changed.
This huge change took place when I was already living in the United States, and back on a summer visit in Sweden, the first time I drove up at a gas station, in my sister’s car I guess, and a young man asked me ‘What do you want?’, using ‘du’, I was utterly amazed. I have more or less gotten used to it by now and I find it very practical. Lots of awkwardness is spared us that way. It is becoming, obviously, more like English, where ‘you’ seems so very natural and avoids so many awkward situations.
The following year Maud graduated from the lycée, passed what we call studentexamen. I was then working in Malmö and could not be at her big party, but she came down to visit me afterwards. I was so very pleased with her visit and of course we went to Lund to see Gun and Per and family. I had a somewhat bigger apartment than in Trollhättan, and also there was a big walk-in closet where I had put a spare bed and it served pretty well as a guest room when, on rare occasions, I had a sleepover guest, such as Mother or Maud.
This was about the end of my youth in Sweden. I spent the summer teaching English in a summer school to young Swedish students in Torquay, South Devon, in England. In those Swedish summer schools you don’t overdo the work and I had a very pleasant time, getting to know a part of England where I had never been before. Torquay has a micro-climate and a beach that’s very popular with the English middle class. It has been called the English Riviera. My landlady happened to know a young Swedish girl who worked in Torquay and to whom she introduced me. It was very nice having company at the beach, and she became quite a friend..
After that summer it was Goodbye to Sweden and that was the beginning of my third life.
Continued:: Chapter 14 — The Americanization of Siv