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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dinner with the ghost of Alfred

Alfred Nobel, that is. As a semi-official representative of... well, I think we have give credit to Canada in this case, H got invited to a dinner party at the Stockholm Stadshuset (City Hall). It took a bit of finagling, but H did manage to procure a ticket for me as well.

I haven't yet figured out how to Photoshop out all of these annoying streetlights.

Although the building serves as the mayoral seat for Stockholm, its global claim to fame is the fact that it hosts the annual Nobel Banquet, during which the year's Nobel Prizes are awarded, excepting only the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, Norway. "Why is the Peace Prize different from all the other prizes?" you ask. Well:

The Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony takes place in the Oslo City Hall, Norway. Why in Oslo, when all the other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden? You will find the answer in the will of Alfred Nobel, in which he stated that the Nobel Peace Prize is to be awarded by a Committee of five persons elected by the Norwegian Storting or parliament.
So there you have it. Succinct as only the Scandinavians can be.

Although we had been warned about how important it was to have a ticket, there were no uniformed guards, no ushers, no ticket-takers or ticket-checkers of any kind. There was only the administrator from H's program, but the only reason she even knew we were there was because we found her. Anyone could have crashed this party, and I don't doubt that many attendees did. All "official" exchange students (I'm fairly certain that I'm "unofficial") in the city of Stockholm were invited.

The planners had us there by 17:30 "sharp" (the word sharp was actually printed on our invitations), and once they had us there--several hundred people between the ages of 17 and 35 or so--they corralled us behind a colonnade and made us watch them as they finished laying out the buffet. Several hundred hungry young people, and they don't have food, drink, or entertainment of any kind ready for us. The planners evidently examined livestock facilities and behavior in order to derive their fundamental organizing principles.


They finish setting out the buffet, all the while looking nervously at the ravening masses behind the barricade. I think some of those poor servers must have thought that we were eying them as if they were dinner. But then, to add stupidity to the mild insult of not even serving us drinks when we arrive (we're guests, remember), they simply drop the rope holding back the deluge, and we hungry hundreds stampede toward the food. I'm sure, strictly in order to impress upon us their vast and utter wisdom, they then prevent us from touching the food. Yes, they permit us into the famed Blue Room (it's actually beautiful red brick, but that's another story), where a veritable veritable smörgåsbord awaits us, only to hold us back with cattle prods and salad tongs. I wouldn't be surprised to later find out that several servers had lost fingers that evening. But the crowning idiocy of the evening--it must be a doozy, eh?--is that they then, at that moment, tried to deliver speeches.

Who knows what they said? Who could hear anything over the onerous rumble of 500 young stomachs? At least no one said anything untoward to the Mayor of Stockholm, who seemed like a generous, affable man.

We were finally allowed to drink, to feast, to make merry. And I finally got to take some photos of the voluminous room with its eerie depths and iconic brickwork.

Well over 20 meters tall...

And we visited the Gold Room as well, famous for its gilded walls and resonant mosaics.

Masonic, alchemical, and mythological references abound.

And I even got a chance to dream a little. I even think that a little Nobel Laureate brain-power must have soaked in, because I've definitely been feeling smarter than usual.

Who's the bald guy who keeps hogging the microphone?

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