My Dinner with Anders

Three lessons learned this week: 1) That being sick in exotic locales may feel passively adventurous, but being sick at a hotel in suburban Sacramento is the very mockery of the gods. 2) That in Sweden pickled sprats are anchovies and anchovies are sardines, or something like that. 3) That Jansson’s Temptation should be succumbed to whenever possible.

One of my coworkers is married to a retired chef, a Swede. Anders must be seventy. He walks with a stoop and wears a pink shirt unbuttoned at the top, white-blonde hair slicked back, a golden ouroboros round his neck. An oak from the yard fell onto the house last year and Anders made the repairs himself. Re-tiling the bathroom, he set a massive trilobite fossil into the wall. He pulled the bulbs and wires from the chandelier to use candles instead.

Bottle after bottle of wine appears. Dish after dish of lobster, scallops, veal, and salmon vanishes. We talk about Knut Hamsun’s troubled politics, Stieg Larsson’s posthumous fame. Anders promises to read me Solzhenitsyn in Russian if I visit again. ‘Now drink this akvavit,’ he says, ‘to help with your cold!’ …It doesn’t. The happy dream over, I wake next morning on the blasted heath of my hotel bed with a pounding headache and cough.

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