Monday, September 17, 2012

outskirts

Johan and I went for a long bike ride the weekend before last. We went so far that we became surrounded by nothing but pasture with fuzzy-eared cattle and met no one but a lone birdwatcher or two. Of course a couple of days later I found out that my friend had ridden her bike 385 km from the city of Aarhus to Copenhagen, and then our trip really didn't feel like that much of a feat.



Saturday, September 8, 2012

The best grandfather ever


My grandfather passed away on Thursday, only a few hours after my grandmother - his companion for more than 60 years - had gone home to get some rest after sitting by his side at the hospital for countless hours. He was 83.

My grandfather on his porch overlooking the lake outside their house.
I'm really not one to use the term 'larger than life' too liberally, but when it comes to my grandfather, there's really no description that's more apt. He was large, tall and burly, decisive and knowledgable, charismatic and a true bonvivant. Whenever you saw him, he'd lift you off your feet and hug you so tight it left you gasping for air.  

My grandfather, in his music and library corner, on his 80th birthday.
He was a true renaissance man, if ever there was one. He knew quite a bit and then some about an impressive number of things, and I don't think there was anything he couldn't converse about without demonstrating a convincing degree of competency. He had a great linguistic instinct too. Knew the basics of all the Romance languages, and if a conversation turned to Italy, say, you could be sure he'd rattle something off in Italian, perfect accent and intonation and all.

He could be a bit of a show-off too, you see :O)



And he played music. The piano, the accordion and the cello - the latter he played for years and years in a local but rather large symphony orchestra. I have particularly vivid memories of him playing the accordion on midsummer's eve and other family gatherings. I remember specifically one time when he was playing, my uncle accompanying him on the piano, when my great grandmother, then in her late 80s, found herself so enthralled by the music that she grabbed the closest instrument at hand, two tablespoons, and made it an impromptu trio.

That is not to say that his musical timing was always perfect. It's long been a family joke that he had an uncanny knack for sitting down at his piano just when everybody else would be running around trying to get dinner ready and set the table right before a number of guests arrived. And there he'd sit, nonchalantly playing something upbeat and uptempo, making everyone run around faster, gradually increasing the stress level of the entire household.

My grandparents on their boat Malin

I really don't know much about my grandfather's professional life. Instead I've heard countless stories of family vacations to Capri, weekends boating and cross country skiing. Stories of quirky yet beloved family dogs, going hunting and building a skiing cabin with my great grandparents. Of trips with friends all over Europe, and - a family favorite - the time he accidentally placed his foot in a layered cake that my grandmother had meticulously prepared.

It always seemed to me that it was in their personal rather than their professional lives that he and my grandmother lived life to its fullest. Which is why, I think, they've also had such an awe-inspiring retirement. They kind of just continued doing all the amazing things they had always done, except they did it 7 days a week and gradually added another dozen activities to their schedule. Golfing, book binding, art history classes, just to name a few.

My grandfather visiting in New York in 2007
I called my grandmother yesterday, and got the answering machine of their joint cellphone. It was my grandfather who had recorded the message, and it was at once strange and comforting to listen to that familiar voice, kind of dark and grave, even though he was anything but.

I miss him. We all miss him. But my heart swells with all things good when I think of his long life, and how successful it is by every single measure that counts. I think it's the most beautiful thing that my grandmother and all of his three children were there to say goodbye and hold his hand and stroke his cheek.

And as for me - and my sister and every one of my cousins, I'm sure - there's an entire treasure chest of childhood memories that are so sweet and comforting you wouldn't believe. Even now, at age 31, I can easily relive the excitement of my grandfather turning off the sports on tv, setting aside his whisky and walking us kids down to the garage (his private man cave) and fetching us each a fishing pole.

Sometimes you'd just stand on the quay right outside their house, and as soon as you messed up the fishing line, you'd call for his help, and he'd come down and patiently sort out the mess. Sometimes though, if he was in the mood for it, he might take you out on the lake in his dinghy to where the big fish were.

My grandfather always seemed to catch big pickerels and perches. So that's what you were hoping. That some of his luck might rub off on you.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

weekend nostalgia. and it's only monday.

I improvised a batch of pistachio mazarins yesterday, and they turned out delish. Kind of like brownies consistency-wise, but with the unmistakable taste of slightly salted caramelized nuts.


Blues (as in the color, not the feeling).