Midsummer

The longest day of the year has now passed and the nights are gradually growing darker which will please those who struggle with the light pouring into their bedrooms bright and early in the morning.

Midsummer night is one of the biggest party evenings of the night in Sweden- with traditional Scandi food and lots of schnapps accompanied by silly schnapps songs.  On Midsummer Day, villagers dance round the maypole, and girls wear National dress with crowns of freshly picked summer flowers on their heads.

We had a little Midsummer dinner party in London, and I christened my new Danish Georg Jensen pyramid cutlery.  My friend made delicious toast Skagen- toast with prawns, mayonnaise, dill and lojrom (orange whitefish roe)- completely divine with champagne. The schnapps flowed; am not a frequent schnapps drinker and concluded the OP and Skåne varieties were my favourites; others are definitely extremely medicinal…

Midsummer food

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Livstycket (The Bodice)

On Wednesday, I attended a really inspiring event at the Swedish Ambassador’s elegant Adam residence; the evening was promoting Livstycket, a not for profit organisation helping Swedish female immigrants, many from war torn countries. The organisation was founded in 1992 by Birgitta Notlöf- a vivacious, energetic and lively lady who gave an impassioned speech at the Residence.

Livstycket is literally translated as ‘bodice’- the garment worn by women throughout the ages both to provide them with warmth and support.  The organisation gives women, who arrive in Sweden help with learning the Swedish language, IT skills and general assistance with integration (a serious problem in Sweden for immigrants).  The women draw images of their experiences and their sketches and designs are made into patterns by a professional designer.  The patterns are printed onto high quality fabrics, made into cushions, tea towels, bags, clothes, you name it- many of which were on display at the Residence, and are available to buy on the Livstycket website.  There are some really gorgeous prints and designs- I particularly liked the quirky map of Stockholm with Tensta, a suburb of the city with a high concentration of immigrants, appearing in the heart of Stockholm where frankly very few immigrants live and where Livstycket is based.

Stockholm by Livstycket

Stockholm by Livstycket

 

Birgitta Notlöf has done some fantastic work and I hope that Livstycket continues to flourish.

http://www.livstycket.se

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Swedish Royal Wedding

Glorious weather in Stockholm for the wedding of Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist later today.  The pre-wedding dinner was on board a steam boat last night and the future HRH Princess Sofia, Duchess of Värmland was radiating happiness in a baby blue Zuhair Murad floor length dress.  For anyone interested the wedding can be watched live on SVT.Play. Good luck to the wedding couple!

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A Marriage of Swedish and Indian culture

A fascinating and rather unusual collection of Indian and Asian art is currently being shown in London at 22, Connaught Street in an exhibition entitled ‘The Dance and the Divine’.  The works were the collection Swedish impresario, Professor Bengt Häger (1916-2011) and his Indian wife, Lilavati. Häger worked throughout his life promoting dance, founding and managing the Dance Museum and University College of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.  He also organised international tours for Swedish dance companies such as the Cullberg ballet.

Lilavati Devi, a dancer described as ‘the Nijinsky of India’, met Häger in Sweden, played a large role in introducing Indian culture to Sweden following the Second World War, writing books on Indian dance art and music as well as being heavily involved in the Festival of India in 1987 which hosted over 200 performing artists.  The King of Sweden awarded Lilavati the Medal of King Gustaf; for the awards ceremony she wore a blue and yellow sari, interpreting the Swedish National Colours in Indian traditional dress.

The highlight of the exhibition is a Thai bronze head of Buddha dated to circa 1500; other works include a an exquisite embroidered silk robe worn by the renowned Peiking Opera singer Mei Lanfang in ‘Farewell my Concubine’, Indian miniatures and paintings by Jamini Roy, one of India’s leading modern artists.

Anna Grundberg, co-prganiser of the exhibition, describes the Hägers as a ‘much-loved couple right at the heart of Scandinavian culture which they enriched with Lilavati’s Indian roots.  They were feted by many, including the King of Sweden and the assassinated Prime Minister Olof Palme.’  Their circle of friends included Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Martha Graham and Berthold Brecht.

For fans of Indian and Nordic culture, this exhibition is well worth seeing with a range of flavours to titillate the taste buds. All works of art are for sale.

The exhibition runs at 22, Connaught Street, London W2 until 17th June. Sanne Grundberg

Jamini, Roy (1887-1972), Handmaiden and Two Attendants, tempera on card.

Jamini, Roy (1887-1972), Handmaiden and Two Attendants, tempera on card.

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Meeting the Queen of Sweden

When I was in Sweden the other week, I was very privileged to be invited to a dinner at Sweden’s oldest Rococo theatre, Confidencen at Ulriksdal, one of the Royal Palaces. The evening was in aid of of Queen Silvia’s charity, Childhood which helps children who are victims of abuse or at risk of exploitation.

I met the Queen (in the sense of saying hello to her) at the same dinner for around 60 people last year; our brief meeting went smoothly. This year there was a receiving line again, following pre-dinner drinks in an elegant wooden panelled, gilded mirrored salon. I hadn’t really thought about the etiquette of greeting the Queen, especially as I had done so before, and was chatting to a friend whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, when I was suddenly face to face with the Queen. My host, Kerstin (not Kerstin Dellert, the mastermind behind Confidencen as we know it today) was standing next to her, and I looked at her waiting for an introduction; she didn’t say anything so I looked at the Queen and smiled, she smiled but didn’t say anything, so I looked at Kerstin again and greeted her. Kerstin looked at me with a horrified expression on her face, and said ‘Aren’t you going to greet the Queen?’ . I turned back to the Queen and said ‘Good evening’. She replied ‘Good evening’ and I scuttled off to find my seat feeling that I had made a bit of a social faux pas. My husband, who was right behind me said she was just putting her hand out to shake mine but I had already shot off. Whoops!

There is a world of difference between Scandinavian royalty and British royalty. In Britain, I understand that when meeting the Queen, you don’t speak to her until she addresses you (hence the mistake I made in Sweden). The lack of security and pomp in Sweden was also quite astounding for someone brought up in the UK. The only person at the door at Confidencen was a photographer, no one checked our names when we arrived or asked any questions. In the UK, I am sure you would need passport identity, security checks etc. The evening at Ulriksdal was convivial, hugely enjoyable, and relaxing with much warmth and merriment in the air. The Queen made an eloquent speech about the charity, which she is clearly passionate about, and the evening had an informal atmosphere with no toast to her Majesty as I am sure that there would have been at a similar occasion in Britain. Royalty in Scandinavia is famous for being ‘of the people’ and much more relaxed than in the UK. I witnessed it here at first hand and am not quite sure what to make of it!

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Junibacken

I was in Stockholm last week- all lush and green and fresh spring weather; there is an expression in Swedish ‘mellan hägg och siren’ (between the cherry blossom and the lilac)- the peak of spring when all is verdant and beautiful- I hit this time and it was gorgeous.

As I was in the company of lots of children, a visit to Junibacken in central Stockholm was essential.  Junibacken is a children’s museum focused on entertainment taken from the books of Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking) but  also including stories by other Scandinavian children’s authors.  The highlight for me is always ‘saga tåget’ the fairy tale train that takes you on a fantastical journey through the stories of Astrid Lindgren- you fly over the roof tops like Carlsson on the roof, journey through the dark forests of Ronia, the robber’s daughter and glide through the Cherry Blossom Valley in The Brothers Lionheart.  I am not sure who loves it more- me or my toddler son!

The Moomin Room, Junibacken

The Moomin Room, Junibacken

 

One room at Junibacken is filled with fantasy houses from various stories where children can climb, play and run around and there is live theatre for older children.  This year the Moomin Room opened- an enchanting recreation of Tove Jansson’s magical Moomin Valley, complete with a carousel, rowing boat and mini observatory.

Going back to Pippi Longstocking, it is her seventieth birthday this year and I gather that there were big celebrations the day after I left! Happy birthday Pippi!

Junibacken

 

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