Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Pink Castle of Uppsala

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had, during a conference banquet last year, found myself eating in Hammarskjöld's tennis court.

"Until fairly recently," the maitre-d' and toastmaster said, "this banqueting hall was in something of a sorry state. It had been allowed to become a store room. The Governor of the Uppsala district resided in the Castle, and had cleared a space amid all the Stately junk for his son to play tennis.

"His son was Dag Hammarskjöld, who would go on to become the second UN Secretary-General."

After our lecture, and a formal welcome from a withered, quiet Mayor of Uppsala (who didn't live in the Castle), we were introduced to a section of one of the university male choirs - perhaps elements of the famous Orphei Dränger, I shall have to find out. Perhaps not. But they wore nineteenth-century uniforms, and bounced while they sang, rather as the Swedish language bounces while it is being spoken.

(The end of conference entertainment couldn't have been any more different from that of the opening ceremony, when we got traditional Swedish cow-herding songs. Traditional in this case meant a high-pitched scream (to attract the cows), and although the singer had generously warned us that she would scream during the song, all three hundred participants in the conference nevertheless jumped visibly.)

Back in the banqueting hall, the highlight of the choir's performance came when the singers broke up and serenaded one lucky girl at each of the long benches. Sitting next to me was a Norwegian friend who attracted the notice of one of the singers, and so I was made to witness the serenade intimately from behind his pony tail, which bounced from beneath his student cap in rhythm with his delicate love song. The song was, by now, being delivered at various corners of the hall, and all but the most obvious harmonies were lost. But I could see that my Norwegian friend didn't care.