Wednesday, June 26, 2019

No Nobel

I awoke in Stockholm without a bike to ride. Back to my more familiar urban tourist self and though I loved every day of the rural bike ride, this felt good. After reading Walden as a teenager, I envisioned a life in the country, but life had other plans and I became a lifetime urban dweller. Which suits me just fine. The energy of the city, the artistic community, the buzz and excitement, good restaurants and jazz clubs and movie theaters and bookstores— I like it all. And plenty of parks and nearby hiking and summers up on Lake Michigan and (in the earlier days), backpacking and camping help keep me in touch with another way of being. But an urban dweller I am.

So I was delighted to set out on foot and wander through Stockholm with my companions as tour guides (they had already explored the city some 5 days before I arrived). We saw the Changing of the Guard at the King’s Palace, went into a cathedral with a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon, hopped on buses and boats with our 24 hour ticket. Of all the museums, we opted for the Nobel Museum, beginning with a delightful lunch in its cafĂ©.

I had looked up Alfred Nobel before coming to the museum and read about his intriguing life as an inventor, scientist, poet of sorts and more. He was most well known as the inventor of dynamite and according to Wikipedia, when his older brother died, a newspaper mistakenly thought it was him and wrote an obituary to the tune of: 

“The Merchant of Death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Nobel read the false obituary and in an Ebenezer Scrooge a-ha moment, decided to devote his fortune to honoring scientists, poets/ authors and people working for peace. The rest is history. Between 1901 and today, some 908 individuals and 27 organizations have been awarded the prize and the museum was devoted to featuring some of their stories. 

The major exhibit was honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, but there were short films, summaries and photos of all the others. Before entering, we tried to guess who had gotten the prizes and were correct that Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Rigoberta Menchu, Malala, Mother Teresa and others had been awared the Nobel Peace Prize. But I was surprised to learn that Gandhi never got one! And Henry Kissinger did! Go figure.

Amongst the authors, I guessed a few—Hemingway and John Steinbeck—but the list was much more extensive and included Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O-Neill, Pearl Buck, Herman Hesse, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill, Albert Camus, John Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Pablo Neruda, Saul Bellow, Isaac Singer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney and Bob Dylan. And many more that make me curious to read them.  

The bulk of recipients were physicists, chemists, biologists and (added later) economists. Except for Einstein, Marie Curie, Crick and Watson, Barbara McClintock and a few others, I didn't know many of them and that was no surprise. But some interesting stories.

Post-museum, we wandering aimlessly for a while and then found an outdoor Thai restaurant to satisfy some culinary longings. After Pad Thai and tofu with noodles and such, we headed back to the Rex Hotel, where there are two pianos side by side in the dining area. I decided to play one while my companions enjoyed an evening glass of wine. After playing for 30 minutes, my wife asked me to play “Happy Birthday” for the people behind me. I happily did, they treated me to cake and I asked if they were from Iran. They were and we had a brief discussion of the insanity of our respective governments and they went back to celebrating and I went back to playing for another hour or so. 

Tomorrow off to the countryside again where an acquaintance bought her Swedish “Walden” house in a remote area. But happy for the day in the city.

And sorry that Gandhi never received the Nobel. 

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