Birthday treats in Stockholm


May 14, 2003: STOCKHOLM, Sweden: Here for Stockholm + 5, the UNESCO experts meeting to follow up on the intergovernmental Action Plan that started all this cultural diversity activity that Canada is so keen on. Today is a day off, and my birthday.

I check out the Dance Museum’s wonderful costume collection: Massine’s Golden Slave outfit from Scheherezade, the villagers’ costumes from the Ballets Russes Sacre du printemps, costumes from all over the Orient (kabuki, puppet masks), lots of Swedish Ballet stuff (only around from 1920-25, but a very innovative company—first to use film, first to use U.S. jazz) and call in on the National Gallery.

Stockholm is flat to the land and water, like St. Petersburg: a strolling city, though 200,000 of the 700,000 population are said to have boats (it’s on an archipelago). At the harbour I spot a steamer bound for Drottningholm, the island where the royals live and the site of the baroque Drottningholm Palace Theatre, which I’ve always wanted to see. On I hop.

The steamer chugs placidly through the islands—little parkways, gardens, gazebos, seawall strolls, then a section of low forest with people sitting sipping: very Volga this—and then we see the handsome royal chateau. I walk up to the theatre but find it closed. Disappointed, I turn away, but someone appears from a nearby building and takes pity on me.

I get a private tour of the place—what a lovely birthday surprise—and it’s every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped, the interior all painted stucco and papier-mâché, the ancient stage machinery—including a wave machine, which I’m allowed to operate, and a thunder maker—still functioning, with access to the complicated structures through narrow walkways under the stage. Lots of traps in the floor; machinery for a suspended chariot; cloud effects; even the optical-fibre lights in the theatre are designed to evoke candles. It takes 40 technicians to operate the effects in productions that are staged today.

Back in the city, my birthday treat continues with—an impulse buy—a ticket to the Royal Swedish Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. I am in the front row of the balcony. The lady beside me unwraps a series of chocolate squares and lines them up on a tissue on the ledge in front of us so she won’t make noise when she eats them: very civilized, it seems to me. A lovely birthday. Having Susan here would have made it complete.


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