Semla in Stockholm

Tuesday 26th February 2019 – Stockholm

Semla are a special bun eaten in Sweden and also other Nordic countries (although each is a little different) originally just on Shrove Tuesday before Lent started, but was expanded to every Tuesday during Lent at some point in its history. They have nothing to do with Harry and his trip but as I am here and they are available, in the spirit of international food experiences, obviously I had to try one. It is a cardamon flavoured bun filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream. According to Jussi Karlgren, who I met for breakfast (note the bun was eaten later as it is a bit much even for me at breakfast time!) the really authentic ones have a triangle shaped bun cap dusted with icing sugar perched on top of the mountain of cream. So this is a good one.

As I have pretty much no information about Harry’s time in the Nordic countries I thought I would see if he had had any press coverage as he seemed to in many of my previous stops, so I headed to the National Library of Sweden.

The Swedish National Library in Stockholm

It is a while since I have been to a big library, so once I had navigated the system to leave your belongings in lockers and take your essentials in a plastic bag into the area where the books and media are, I headed down to the Newspaper Archive section. A very charming lady helped me get set up and search the digitised archive of Swedish language newspapers. Sadly the search did not come up with anything from Harry’s 1966 trip but it did come up with lots of other references to International House, Harry and also Rockefeller’s involvement. It looks like they did a good job of PR at the opening of the House in 1924 with quite a bit of coverage and further coverage in the late 20s and 30s.

Article from SVENSKA DAGBLADET 7th October 1928 – four years after the NYC House opened

It looks like Harry probably visited Stockholm whilst he was in Europe around 1935/36 and again in 1953. One thing about Harry was that he never gave up and I think he lived his life in optimism that in every country he would find the people who would facilitate the opening of a new House. In Sweden it looks as though his efforts focused around a club for International Students being run by the business school now the Stockholm School of Economics.

Article from DAGENS NYHETER 14th October 1953

It seems that a lady called Ingeborg Axén was involved in the plan and that money was not the issue but land was. Much of Stockholm was re-built during the 50s and 60s to a master plan and getting access to land to build things that were not on the plan was a challenge. As there are no more references to this potential House that I could find, I can only imagine that it never happened.

Stockholm School of Economics

There may also have been a plan in 1960 to have an International House funded by the Rotary in Goteborg, there is no reference to Harry being involved so it may have been completely separate, although it is interesting that it was Rotary funding that helped build I-House Sydney.

Article about Goteborg plan SVENSKA DAGBLADET 12th October 1960

Looking for articles about Harry’s 1966 tour I also came across articles documenting the visit of the two Swedish Princesses, Desiree and Birgitta, to Chicago in November 1960 which tells of them having lunch at the I-House.

Article about Pricesses Desiree and Birgitta visiting I-House Chicago on a visit in 1960 – SVENSKA DAGBLADET 13th November 1960

Those of you following my trip will know that Stockholm has been one of my more challenging places to find people to meet, so no big gathering was possible here, but I was able to connect over email with a number of alumni and meet with two of them separately.

Jussi Karlgren had two stints at I-House NYC one when he was a bachelor, 89/90, and a later one, 95/96, when his wife and two very small sons came with him and lived in one of the flats. He is actually 1/2 Finnish and told me how with another Fin they had the Finnish stall at All Nations. They managed to get sponsorship from an importer of cheese, who provided them with a mountain of Finnish cheese (yes apparently it is a thing) and they found some black bread and did a roaring trade in cheese sandwiches.

His other recollection was of parties thrown by a young trustee of I-House at his very cool Central Park West apartment. Every month the trustee would put up a sign up list on the Claremont side notice board and when the numbered slots were full the list came down and those on the list were invited to the party. It was Beer and Pizza and also some additional lady guests from Barnard college! Somehow Jussi managed to get on the list a number of times…. 

Not the best picture of me with Jussi Karlgren – we had to resort to a selfie as unlike in Asia there were no photographic ready waiting staff or other volunteers to take it for us

My second rendez vous was with I-House NYC alum Anders Paulsson, who is a wonderful saxophonist and also passionate advocate for the preservation of coral reefs. He has managed to combine coral reef preservation, music and science in projects in Hawaii, Philippines, Stockholm, Costa Rica and Zanzibar and this year he will travel to Liberia to work with musicians there too http://www.coralguardians.org  

The strangest thing meet Anders was that we quickly found out that both of us had volunteered in the 1990s for the same UK NGO, Coral Cay Conservation, which had taken us both to dive for extended periods in Belize and also the Philippines off Negros on Danjugan Island. We obviously had not done it at exactly the same time and Anders’ experience has inspired him to found the Coral Guardians project and also to compose related music. My diving was curtailed by the arrival of my children but meeting Anders has reminded me of how important this part of my life once was so one I must revisit.

Anders Paulsson with me passing the light on in Wayne’s coffee at the Concert Hall

Anders was a Fulbright Scholar and went to NYC to further his music studies on the soprano saxophone through the study of Jazz at the Manhattan School of Music. Arriving in 1985 at the House, he was presented a booklet on how to be streetwise in New York City, the contents of which were somewhat alarming. So much so it was about a week before Anders ventured out of the House. Being a lover of nature, Anders had a room over looking the park, unlike Jussi, who said that he had one of the cheapest rooms in the House but did have a distant river view courtesy of the guy in the room across from him who never drew the curtains!

One of Anders’ precious memories is of tutoring a young man in English spelling as part of the Harlem Tuition Program and of taking his tutee and mum onto the roof of I-House to show them the view. His other vivid recollection was of being stopped in the hall by a fellow Swede and being told the news that the Prime Minster of Sweden, Olof Palme, had been assassinated whilst walking home from the cinema with his wife. (Feb 28th 1986).

Anders had the privilege of playing for Nelson Mandela and also to compose a CELEBRATION SUITE for South Africa Celebrating 20 years of Democracy. http://anderspaulsson.se/site/tag/south-africa/ He said to me that in South Africa they had taught him that we are all one race – human, just with different ethnic origins, so the concept of racism is therefore absurd. Harry would have liked that thought.

Postcard Postscript…

As some of you know I have been trying to send my children postcards from every destination which has almost been harder than finding alumni to meet with! Two Postcard related things from this stop, first once I had finally found a post office which was in itself a challenge, Sweden turns out to be my most expensive postcard sending yet. 21Kr for each stamp which is approximately $2. The young lady at the counter said it is because they upped the stamp cost to handle things up to 50gms?!? It is a very pretty stamp though, in fact I was offered the choice two either the Tulip or the Queen.

21Kr about $2 for a postcard stamp! It is a pretty stamp but still…

The other news is that the handprinted card of an elephant bought in Mumbai and posted in Beirut at AUB (see post about postcards) did actually arrive in the UK! It took 19 days but it got there.

Where we ate – Vete-Katte, a wonderful old pastry and coffee shop, has two distinct halves to it and in fact two counters. The front is shiny and new and the back is quaint and cosy – definitely go to the back http://vetekatten.se/en/

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