Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stockholm, Sweden. Monday, 17 August, 2009

Stockholm, Sweden
Monday, 17 August, 2009

I said goodbye to Western Europe (having already said goodbye to Eastern Europe from Poland) and hopped a flight to Stockholm, where I met up with Björn Sundmark, our fellow nonsense panelist in Frankfurt, the only man who manages to associate nonsense and Scandinavian furniture design, and overall indispensable nonsense nugget. Björn has been critical in setting up the various lectures and meetings in Stockholm, Copenhagen, Lund, and Malmö, and has been a stellar host. I tip my hats, my spats, and my cousin’s catarrhal cats (gingerly) in his general direction—but more on all those places to come! Stockholm, then. City of levels, of cliffs and waterways, islands and bridges. After meeting up with Björn in our hotel, we headed to the talk, which was held at the Swedish Institute of Children’s Literature. Something like the Norwegian Children’s Literature Institute in Oslo, this is the main organization in the country for such study. The academic study of children’s literature is still somewhat in its early stages in Europe (though it varies by country), and organizations like this one go a long way towards creating awareness of the field, facilities and institutions that encourage it, and scholarship worthy of the topic’s importance.

We settled into the comfy chairs in a scene that, to our delight, looked a little like a talk show. The crowd was large (especially considering many people were still on the Sacred Scandinavian Holiday), and we launched into it, after having been introduced by Jan Hansson, the Director of the Institute. At the last minute Björn had had to retool his talk to be in Swedish, which meant that he mostly had to adlib from his paper that was written in English. He did a marvelous job, but when my turn came to speak, it did not feel quite right simply to read my paper after such an easy-going, informative talk (or what seemed so, since my Swedish is limited to “tak” (thank you) and “hej” (hello)). And so, I also tried to be “off book” as much as possible, and I think with some success. This kind of more casual presentation has always been my ideal, though I’ve never had the nerve to do it for real. I also included in the presentation, for the first time, nonsensical throatsinging—a piece which I learned from Alash, the stellar Tuvan musical group, and their manager Sean Quirk, in particular. When I heard the distant Swedish mountains reverberate (and one distinctly hiccupped), I decided this was a feature that I should keep. We had some excellent discussion afterwards, and at the very end, we were presented with tokens of appreciation: not gargleberry, chuckleberry, or even Chuck Barry, but rather, cloudberry jam (which sustained me mightily in the days following in Malmö). I suppose one can’t punch every hanging chad.

A select group of nonsense numina then headed to Wasa, a restaurant nearby, wherein there was a room, with plush chairs, bookcases, and a sepia nicotine patina, devoted entirely to smoking, though this was not so strange. What was strange was that one could neither eat there, nor, according to the explicit sign pointed out to me by Sonja, was one allowed to read any of the old books stacked neatly therein. This was indeed a restaurant I could believe in. Our group included: myself and Björn, Sonja and Conny Svensson, Christina Björk, and Davide Finco. If you have heard of any of these people it is with good reason: they are experts in what they do, whether it is scholarship or writing children’s literature.

After dinner, Björn and I were still full of adrenaline, and so we took a long, long walking tour of Stockholm by night. After many miles (for Björn can compete with Kevin any day in walking speed), we stopped off in the perfect pub (what more holy and appropriate event for such nonsense monks as we?) and toasted the successful day.