It’s the first poem I read by Tomas Tranströmer. My teacher at Wayne State University, Edward Hirsch suggested Tranströmer’s lyric sweep of history would appeal to my eye for detail and a poetic line setting deep within a panoramic view of space and time.
Baltics (ÖSTERSJÖAR) a slim collection of poems casting a haunted eye on the world and wreckage across waves and islands in a white belt laid out from the Atlantic. Now I sit in an apartment in Stockholm on a cold and rainy afternoon in June and read the opening line I know so well, now read in Swedish.
Det var före radiomasternas tid.
Before the time of radio masts.
The lyrical lines detail history centering around Transformer’s grandfather who sailed the Baltic Sea. Logbooks and fog give way to forests, ghosts and a mine bobbing in the water, and then a baptismal font.
In the half-dark corner of Gotland church, in the mildewed daylight
stands a sandstone baptismal font—12th Century—the stone cutter’s name
still there, shining
like a row of teeth in a mass grave:
the name still there. And his scenes
here and on the sides of other vessels crowded with people, figures on their way out of the stone.
The eyes’ kernel of good and evil bursting there. (Translated by Samuel Charters)
I den gotlänska kyrkans halvmörka horn, i en dager av mild mögel . . . .
A mixture of concrete images, steadfast definitions, startling metaphors
är kvar, framlysande
som en tandrad i en massgrav
And then images on the font give way to a private meditation revealing the fear and worry of the present world.
Only inside there is peace, in the water of the vessel that no one sees,
but on the outer walls the struggle rages.
And peace can come drop by drop, perhaps at night
when we don’t know anything,
or as when we’re taped to a drip in a hospital ward.
The Baltic Sea runs in channels between the islands comprising Stockholm and we’ve been walking along its windings on pavements, stairs, rumbling across in trams, staring down at it from bridges and balconies. Now it’s time to gather food from its depths and the pines and spruces towering above. It’s time to walk to Hötorgshallen.
Food halls in Stockholm are a wonder to behold. An ingenious idea really, to gather a number of cafes and restaurants together with butchers, fishmongers, purveyors of cheese, chocolate, bread, and the gatherings of flora and fauna from across the country.
Legs, heads, and organs glow in various hues of red and white wherever I turn, and I do turn whichever way I go like a child in a candy or toy store, a kitten with a ball, a horticulturalist in the palace gardens, Casanova in a brothel . . . I digress.
Smoked meats, the tender pieces of moose, reindeer, bear, elk darkly ruminate in vacuum packages. Dark packages from a world of glacial debris, lichens and fungi, and large, full-sail clouds that skim the sky like 18th century dreams of circumnavigating the globe. I’m hungry.
Thinking of the sea, gifts from cold waters surge forward in ice eliciting crazed dreams of recipes combining salmon and pike with the sea slat they swim in, and the pine needles that fall on their heads when they skim white floured shores. I’m very hungry.
And yes, the much prized by Henry VIII, smoked eel–a fantasy for Gabriela as well, she glows when she describes her childhood love of the slithery creature, reminding me that every birthday and every christmas as a little girl she asked for eel. We’re very hungry.
Of course, we purchase smoked reindeer heart, smoked beer meat, and half of a smoked eel. Outside, we walk into a treasure trove of vegetable and fruit stalls where Gabriela lays eyes on chanterelles. We have plans.
Walking, subway, tram, more walking to our apartment just south of Mariatorget. Back home it’s time to set out the fare.
We set out the to warm to room temperature. Glory to all things smoked–kött ooh ål.
Time to turn to the fungi, we rinse the chanterelles.
While working on what will grace the table, I’ve opened an Amarone Della Valpolicella from Castelforte, which I purchased at the state-run System Bolaget. The wine selection offers French and Italian bottling much cheaper than in the states. This little glory only cost me 179 kroner or 22 dollars. With all the dark berry and oak notes, plus a healthy does of umami, this glass pairs perfectly with the game we’re about to thank Thor for.
Time to sauté the chanterelles in butter. Much butter.
Pour onto toasted bread.
Now it’s time to assemble the feast.
So the tasting notes–going around the plate: buttery chanterelles on tasted bread gave a rich, full floor of the forest taste to the mouth; a summer salad topped with a balsamic syrup vinaigrette; smoked eel giving a deeply fatty taste to soft, flaky meat; bear meat surprisingly textured and only slightly gamey; and then the smoked reindeer heart–a sweet and meaty, slightly bloody taste that when thinly sliced melts in the mouth.
We ate. We drank. And then we slept, dreaming of old sailing ships, medieval baptismal fonts, voices breathing across Baltic shores, and the knowledge that this day we lived well whatever tomorrow may bring. Here’s EF from Sweden and Tomorrow My Friend off their first album Give Me Beauty… Or Give Me Death! Bon Appétit!