My Friend Annie Bearing a Gift from Sweden

Yesterday, New Year’s Eve Day, Annie Charters called and wondered if she might stop by. She said she “had something,” for me and also wanted to share her stories of attending a few of the Nobel festivities for Tomas Tranströmer, who, with his wife Monica, is a long time friend of hers and Sam’s. “Yes, of course, come anytime!” I told her and an hour later she was at my front door.

She brought a few photos of herself in a simple black dress with Tomas (who is wheelchair bound after suffering a stroke) at a celebratory luncheon. In 1975 Oyez, a small Berkeley press, published Sam’s translation of Baltics. Almost a year before the Prize was announced Cavern Press of Salt Lake City asked Sam if they could reissue the book. Now the world is clamoring for it. It will contain Sam’s translation and the original Swedish.

Annie had very good news: the book will also contain her black and white photos of the Tranströmers taken that same year, the essay she wrote in 1975 that was never published, and a new essay.  Though best known as the authority on the Beats and Kerouac, Annie’s black and white photos are as widely acclaimed. Her photos of the Beats and of many blues musicians have been exhibited, and were collected in two beautiful books: Beats and Company and Blues Faces: A Portrait of the Blues, (published by one of our favorite still independent publishers David Godine) which she did with Sam. So this new book promises to be very exciting.

“Yes, yes,” you say, “but what did she bring you?”

Lovely beads made by Swedish potter Gertrude Bäge.  Plus three postcards with photos of her pots. The beads are simple tubes with a softly glossy glaze, and causal markings in a goldish brown. Bäge has purposely made no attempt to create identical beads or to carry out any sort of symmetrical arrangement. The necklace is unselfconsciously evocative of the distant past. Taking them in my hands I think of polished bits of bones or shells, a prehistoric gift perhaps, or maybe a string of talismen. Yet, they also seem modern. It takes a sure hand to pull a necklace like this off without making it appear trite.  And the beads are very pleasant to touch. I can see it will be difficult not to fiddle with them when I wear them.

Annie told me that Gertrude keeps a shop that she and Sam love to visit in the old section of Stockholm. “You must come. We will introduce you.”

One day… I promise myself…

Of course Bäge must have a website, I thought as I typed her name into Google after Annie left, but no, it appears that she does not. So, I did what I always do, I perused my bookshelves, and there she is in Raku: A Review of Contemporary Work by Tim Andrews. “Gertrude Bäge fires her raku work at the workshop of Lena Anderson {note: this was in the mid-nineties}. Several times a year, loaded with boxes of bisque-fired plates, she boards a train to the countryside. There the two potters have built an oil-drum gas-fired raku kiln, and the next four days are intensively spent firing a considerable volume of work.”

Andrews also notes that though raku was gaining widespread popularity amongst Swedish potters, many continued to make “traditional Swedish ware of pale colours and perfect finish.” By the looks of her postcards, Bäge produces both.

Happy New Year!

Addendum: I am a list maker and most list makers also make resolutions. I am no exception. My main resolution this year is to complete my book on Guy Wolff for University Press of New England before the September deadline. I will keep you posted on my progress.

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