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Varvsgatan

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;

                                            —  Robert Louis Stevenson

People who live in the north have a special relationsip with light.  In the tropics it’s easy to take the light for granted and even to relish the thought of dim, shaded, cool spots.  In the north light becomes your shelter from the surrounding dark.  The dark that can have a banefull effect on people, leading to depression, drink, and even suicide.  But that is not how I remember Stockholm.  In my mind it is late afternoon in November or December and the sky is dark but the streets are lit by the bright glow from the store windows. 

Possum and I are out running errands.  We are walking along the crooked, narrow streets of the old city.  Streets lined with little shops full of interesting things.  The butcher will have blood pudding and strings of sausages.  The chemist tins and tubes of salves and creams.  All the windows have Christmas decorations and the stores are warm and cozy. 

We pass a store with a cardboard carousel in the window.  The carousel has horses and candles.  It spins round and round.  We admire it very much.  Then, to my regret, we continue on our way.    A little later we stop in an art supply store  and Possum buys carboard and wooden pegs.  She tells me that we are going to build a carousel of our own.

Once we are home, Possum does, indeed, build a carousel.  It’s a beautiful, gaily painted creation with cardboard horses and candles.  Just as good as the one in the store.

The only problem is that the fan at the top is made of carboard not tin.  So once we light the candles the carousel catches fire and sits on the table spinning madly with flames flying up through the blades of the fan.  We have to extinguish it in the sink.  Never mind, that was pretty exciting too.  

Later we get a store-made carousel which we had for many, many years.  It is inexstricably linked with Christmas in my mind, along with the cloth place mats with the words and music from Swedish Carols printed on them and the soft yellow candles dripping wax on the backs of the horses that held them.

No, the dark wasn’t threatening, it made all the warmth and light possible.

7 Responses to “Varvsgatan”

  1. Melinda says:

    What a beautifully remembered piece. My grandmother was Swedish, and our carousels were the golden tin variety. We had many Swedish Christmas treats, a favoirte of mine being “fruit soup”, made from dried fruits and stored in a cold, empty servant’s room behind the kitchen in a huge pot. Mother was admired among friends and family for the exquisite Swedish cookies she made for Christmas gifts: thin ginger cookies in myriad shapes delicately decorated and “spritzer” cookies squeezed from a pastry tube. We had Swedish decorations made of wood, paper and straw that distinguished our house from others in the village at Christmas.

  2. Jeff says:

    You can see pictures of Stockholm from around 1949 at https://picasaweb.google.com/AZBeans/Stockholm

    I have the place mats with the Swedish carols on them — I would be happy to share! I don’t think the carousel made it to Arizona from Washington.

  3. maRgaret bean says:

    BILL SO TOUCHINGLY EVOKES THE MYSTERIOUS DARK OF THE STOCKHOLM WINTER STREETS, AS HE DOES THE CHRISTMAS LIGHT AND CONTENTS OF THE MUSEUM AT VALLEY ROAD. MY FATHER SEEMS TO SUDDENLY EXIST AGAIN WHEN BILL REMEMBERS IT ALL. PARTIFULAR OBJECTS SUCH AS SMALL FAMILY PHOTOS (TAKEN, I THINK WITH AN OLD KODAK CAMERA THAT HAD ‘BLLOWS’ AND FASTENED TO THE CUBOARD DOOR WITH THUMBTACKS-I STILL HAVE SOME WITH THUMB TACK HOLES) – AND PAPER MATCHBOX COVERS! ALL REMIND ME THAT MY, IN MY MEMORY, VERY GIFTED FATHER WAS ESPECIALLY ATTUNED TO AND FOND OF SMALL COMIC EVENTS AND OJECTS. MELINDA IS QUITE RIGHT TO NOTICE THAT BILL’S HOUSEI I S IN HIS GRANDFATHER’S TRADITION. MY FATHER HAD, FOR INSTANCE, WHAT HE CALLED HIS ‘ROUND-THE-CORNER GUN’ AND PERHAPS JOHN CROSS HAS IT STILL.

    DOES BILL’S MUSEUM ACCOUNT REMIND ANYONE OF THE MAGICIAN’S ROOM IN INGMAR BERGMAN’S CHRISTMAS FILM,? I AM ENJOYING
    MELINDA’S COMMENTS, BOTH BOOK AND COOKIE, AND SOON EXPECT TO HEAR FROM ANNA, LILLIE AND ISABELLA.

    WHY MUST I TYPE IN CAPITALS??!!

  4. Bill says:

    I do remember the photographs. They were printed on very thin, shiny paper and often had gently serrated edges. They got mixed in with hunting and fishing licences from by-gone years and empty shotgun shells. (Why do you suppose shotgun shells were thumb-tacked to the gun closet door? A particularly fine shot, perhaps?)

    As to Possum’s last paragraph, that may be a truly existential question. The proximate cause probably has something to do with the shift-lock key. But as to a final cause, I really don’t know. It does, however, lead me to wonder why Archy typed in lower case. Wouldn’t one simple hop on the Shift-lock key have trasformed him into an upper-case cockroach?

    I also note that modern keyboards have “Shift” keys but use “Caps Lock.” Am I imagining that old typewritters used to say “Shift lock?”

  5. Melinda says:

    Robert’s photos that Jeff kindly posted are brilliant, both in their subject matter and in the clear light they capture. I am particulary fond of the one of the sailor and blond in front of the fancy prow of a ship, and the “Possum with Red and Yellow Flowers”…both so evocative of the time.

  6. Jeff says:

    You are correct: old typewriters had a “Shift lock” key. Pressing this key shifted and locked into position the entire rack of the arms that printed letters on the paper so that the second letter on each head struck the paper instead of the normal one. This had the unfortunate effect of making it impossible to type numerals without first releasing the shift lock key.

    When computer keyboards came along they improved on this design and changed the Shift Lock key into a Caps Lock key. This key causes only the alphabetic keys to be “shifted” into upper case and has no effect on the top row of numbers and symbols.

    The “Shift” key kept its original name because its function remained the same — it affected all keys on the keyboard, not just the alphabetic keys. I suppose a better name would be “Upper” since there is no mechanical shifting involved anymore.

    By the way, if anybody would like an old typewriter, we have a few going begging here. I have an old Sears/Smith Corona electric, and Robert had a couple of manual typewriters. They make good toys for children.

  7. maegaret bean says:

    Bill so perfectly describes Stockholm’s winter dark that I will
    only add this. We were fortunate to live, on arriving, in an old part of the city. I wonder if its narrow streets are still, at Christmas, hung across with lanterns in pagan moon shapes.

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