After the feelings of of insecurity and loneliness during my years at the university, even though there had been some fun events too, I badly needed a place where I belonged, a home that was definitely mine. So I married 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 Ulf.
Such a marriage with Ulf would probably not have worked out anyway. I was not 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 and security. 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 would not expect me to have children, a thing I was definitely not prepared for.
My first remark when I saw the apartment he had furnished for us was: ‘Where is the maid going to sleep?’ That was a very silly question, but, frankly, seeing the apartment was a bit of a shock. Roland had clearly expected a positive reaction from me, but I could not pretend any great joy. Three rooms, not big, and there was really nothing beautiful about the apartment. And no dinner table in the living room to entertain guests. So we had to eat in the kitchen even when we had friends coming over. It was embarrassing.
When I grew up, there had always been a maid in a maid’s room. Which explains my silly remark, since obviously with no children around there was no need for a full-time maid. In my early youth we had always been used to having a maid, until my stingy mother had 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. We did have some occasional help to do the thorough cleaning anyway. Now, without a maid Gun was very pleased to move from the room we had shared to the maid’s room. She only complained about the ingrained smell of cheap perfume that she could never get rid of. So I had what had been intended as the master bedroom all to myself.
One of our maids in the apartment we had before “we married Arne” as I famously said at dinner one evening, had left suddenly with part of our linen supply and a suitcase from the attic to pack the things in. 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 regular cleaning woman. I was the maid, the cook and the hostess and it was very far from what I had counted on, since I also was a full-time teacher. I had expected a more bourgeois existence, but there was no sign of that.
As far as apartments go, I was used to big rooms full of light, large windows and a sizeable balcony. A fireplace in the living room was a must for Mother, I will never forget Mother’s beautiful room, a combined salon-bedroom in one corner of our apartment in Malmö, the corner overlooking the Sound between Sweden and Denmark. In her room there was a group of two pale yellow arm-chairs and a low, rectangular, mirror-topped table, a light brown colored mirror-top where Mother made up her glass menagerie — certainly Tennessee Williams’ play by that title in 1946 had brought up the idea in her mind. It began with a somewhat clumsy-looking but cute glass frog and continued with more graceful animals, such as a deer and a giraffe. Mother’s bed was a wide divan that did not look like a bed when it was made up. The room had big angled corner windows and a huge aquarium by the wide window. It was by far the most beautiful room in our apartment, but Arne’s room was next, a masculine style with one wall covered by high bookcases.
That was the way an apartment should look, I thought. Our living room was very big, and we had divided it into two halves with low angled bookcases that had been with Mother and us since we first moved to Malmö when I was five years old. That is where the new encyclopedia, “Svensk uppslagsbok” found a home. It was so detailed that when I had a project (Swedish literature or history, not sure) in Gymnasium, I didn’t even need to go to the library. I studied the subject at home.
Back to the saga of my first marriage. As could have been expected, things did not work out very well and after a couple of 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.
However, starting at the beginning, just about the first thing I did after getting married and moving into 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 outfit, but it did have two speakers for stereo sound, 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, even though it was not what comes out of my wonderful Wharfdale.speakers that I bought in the U.S. and which John and I still have.
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, added 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 overtures), 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. Never mind, it worked and the sound was good.
Arne’s first LP record was a birthday present from his mother in July 1953, and it was the entire opéra 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. We rented a completely primitive house 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 this primitive house that was close to my uncle’s house in southern Småland. So to listen to our first LP record we had to go to the house of a cousin of Mother’s in Tingsryd, the town next-door. We all sat around listening solemnly, in something close to ecstasy. The sound was marvelous.
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. However, I got a Mozart piano sonata that I usually like, but I wasn’t crazy about it for some reason. It was played by the famous pianist Lili Kraus.
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 sonata Käbi Laretei really had the right touch. 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 ballet is just about the only piece I like by Tchaikovsky and I love the ballet, when it is 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 ‘The Barber of Seville’ that wasn’t on my record. So I swapped a 78 for a small 45 with my favorite Rossini overture. But of all the things I like by Rossini, my forever favorite is la Cenerentola (Cinderella), in its entirety. With Teresa Berganza singing la Cenerentola.”Una volta c’era un re’ , it is 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, Westchester, NY. We only finally gave it to a friend in Paris, when the new cover I had got put on in New Rochelle had turned from brown to reddish brown. 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 had made on the part-time teaching job during my last year in Lund. It would not surprise me if it is still a comfortable sofa somewhere in Paris.
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 was not busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. There were no scenes of course, just mild surprise.
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 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 uphill and downhill — 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. Official Norwegian and official Swedish are two quite different languages, it has to be added here, even if we can get along most of the time when speaking our own language to one from the other side.
On the way back we had to ski downhill through a forest, since I was not a good enough skier to go down the slalom hill.. 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 experienced. Steep mountains on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other side. And the old town of Trondheim is adorable.with its 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 I had become a somewhat more skilled skier.
So, there were a few high points during our three years of married life, but I had made my decision. I wanted to go on with my life outside of the little world I had been hemmed into. I felt sad and guilty about leaving Roland, who was basically a good man and who loved me, but I just could not limit my life to the narrow borders drawn up by this marriage. The cultural poverty of our lives as well as the lack of everyday comfort made my life become set on a barren ground. This was something I had not bargained for when I accepted to marry Roland. There was a whole world outside and my life was only beginning. I had to move on.
Decades later I got in touch with Louise, Roland’s daughter, who had kept the name Thulin and I learned that Roland had become a very good translator of American crime novels. I knew that all he used to read during the time we were married was Mickey Spillane and another crime novelist whose name escapes me. I was of course very pleased that he read English so well. But it was a big surprise to hear that he later had turned into a translator, with focus on a writer I didn’t know until Louise told me about him, Robert Ludlum (Operation Hong Kong, The Road to Gandolfo, etc.). I was very pleased that his life had been filled with productivity after he retired from the air force with a lieutenbant colonel’s rank. Louise sent me one of his translated books, and the style was very good. I was impressed and very pleased.
But that is not all. Louise herself had become a top-level translator. After many years of translating business texts for the huge telephone and electric concern, LM Ericsson, she turned to fiction and, after a few sundry novels she got started on her big oeuvre, George Marten’s ”A Saga of Ice and Fire’. an epic series of fantasy novels. I don’t know exactly how many of that series she translated, but I do know that after normal retirement age, or actually soon thereafter, she became the editor of other translators of the Saga. I think that was the last volume of the Saga, but I am not sure that Marten has finished his series.
It is with teary eyes that I write here that Louise, whom we always used to call Lou, died of a flu in 2018. She was very happily married and had three children who were doing very well in life. Louise was a wonderful person, and we were very good friends.
The school where I was teaching those three years played an important part in the change of my way of looking at social conditions in 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, I had to make do with teaching in a vocational school. I had naively thought I would be able to 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 the year of our marriage I settled for a job in a vocational school close to where we were living in Sundbyberg, a northern suburb of Stockholm. That turned out to be very lucky for me. My colleagues were vocational teachers of things like electro-mechanics, auto mechanics, wood-working, hair-dressing 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 no-more-young men in my school 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 Frösell who became my very good friend had at one time been the CEO of AB Sunlight (Sunlight, Inc.) in Nyköping, This is the city south of Stockholm where Arne and Mother lived at that time. 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. I guess that Sven who was a Stockholmer moved to Nyjköping after his divorce from this socialite 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 had not been for his highly intelligent wife who organized his career. Usually ii is 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 pre-ordered 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 believe I have 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, called by his last name, Glaumann, by everybody, had both become alcoholics and they could no more hold a position in big business. 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 all the same several quite bright students there and I taught them English and Swedish.
After my first year at the vocational school, 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. Sven taught English and the business subjects. 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 Riddargaten 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 would not make any mistakes about 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 change in my life. (See Chapter 16 – My wonderful new family)
Continued: Chapter 12 — An Interlude in Dreamland