By Andy Weddington
Friday, 19 August 2011
"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names." Chinese Proverb
Last week's Commentary ended with the Post Script...
"Jordgubbar aside, there are huge, rolling fields in Sverige that sprout ginormous 'marshmallows.' The chewy treat is not farmed but harvested. And it's not for toasting. They're later eaten--but only the inside--by beasts. Perhaps some day I will write about them."
Only because I'd not settled on a point did I believe it'd be a while before writing about the ginormous marshmallows. But a serendipitous encounter the day before last week's posting changed that intent. For today, a short story and lighter fare.
About 9:00am last Thursday morning, having finished a leisure breakfast and coffee, my wife grabbed her camera and I shouldered my backpack of painting materials and off we stepped to explore the tiny and quaint village of Tallberg (for proper spelling and pronunciation, add a pair of dots over the "a" and pronounce as "Tellberry"), Sweden, nestled along the eastern shore of beautiful Lake Siljan (pronounced "Silyan") in Dalarna.
Even grossly exaggerated color post cards do not do the place justice. No exaggeration--it is remarkably beautiful countryside.
Though fast-moving clouds were heavy and the air felt and smelled of rain any moment, the sun managed to peek through often enough to encourage us forward. Painting would be challenging--only impossible if it rained and only because of water-based paints.
Initially heading east, the lake to our back, we opted for a meandering uphill route toward a "kaffestuga" (coffee house) recommended by the hotel staff.
Every few yards was another photo op.
The painter's eye, though teased, yet to be tempted.
An occasional car passed--courteous on-coming drivers offered a wave and generous yield.
We turned south continuing uphill. The countryside an amazing puzzle of vibrant greens. Most of the buildings--some old some new built to appear old--painted traditional Falun red. White trim--icing on the cake--on most.
About 100 yards further and the painter's eye held captive. A small field, with guarding treeline to the west running north south, didn't completely obscure Lake Siljan.
Every few minutes the sun electrified the landscape. And then the clouds returned. So goes the weather in Sweden and the challenges of plein air painting.
I told my wife this will be the morning's first painting locale. After decades of not always understanding choice of subject she says, "I'll be back. I'm going to wander."
I found a spot on the grassy shoulder of the road.
While setting up my easel and about to squeeze out paint a couple of women walking in the middle of the road--wandering downhill from the direction of the kaffestuga--approach. They are speaking to each other but are too far away for me to understand. As they near, one looks in my direction and speaks. Still too far away to be understood, I say nothing. They assume I did not hear them and as they get closer she looks at me and repeats her words. Her inflection suggests a question.
I stopped what I was doing. Smiled. And kindly said, "Jag talar inte Svenska" (I do not speak Swedish) followed by, "I am happy to converse in English." She said "Okay," switched to English, and proceeded to walk behind and to the right of my easel. She looked uphill and remarked how beautiful the old kaffestuga building(s)and the striking morning light. She was impressed and approved of the view. Her friend, nodding and offering a few words, agreed whole-heartedly.
"Ah, yes, it's beautiful indeed," I said. Then added, "But I am not going to paint in that direction. I am going to paint that!"--and pointed to the small field to the west in front of the lake. The women looked puzzled. I said, "Yes, the giant marshmallows--I am going to paint them in the field. They're marvelous. Look at how vibrant they are in the light."
The women laughed. And we had a short discussion about the giant marshmallows. They had not ever thought of them in that context. Nor heard them called 'gigantic marshmallows.' She said they called them "ice bergs." And they couldn't believe I was going to paint them. I told them to drop by in an hour or so and they could see the painting well underway--if not finished.
They spoke a few more words in English and we laughed some more. They wished me good luck and turned to continue downhill. I heard them switch to Swedish, exchange comments, and giggle and laugh some more. I suppose they were thinking silly American--crazy painter.
Though it was a battle, I defeated the clouds. I finished the sunlit painting. It's a little dandy.
Soon thereafter my wife returned. She approved. With pack loaded and shouldered, we continued uphill toward the kaffestuga for a cup. But before coffee I painted a quicky of the kaffestuga overlooking Lake Siljan. There was no sunlight so the painting looks gloomy--a contrast to the sunlit marshmallows. In the end, a productive morning.
A couple of days later we met a young Canadian woman in Mora, home of the famous painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920), and while telling her about the marshmallow painting she said in her circles they call them "dinosaur eggs."
And a few days later, while visiting friends in Falun, the marshmallow painting came up and they said they call them "space eggs."
What are they?
Bales of hay--in the shape of giant marshmallows. Heavy duty white plastic wrapping makes them appear so. The wrap keeps the hay fresh for feeding the livestock during winter.
When harvesting the hay the farmers bale and wrap--leaving the gigantic marshmallow-shaped bundles randomly scattered across their fields. From a distance, and even up close, they look just like gigantic marshmallows. Later the farmers gather, stack along the sides of the field, and move them to barns.
But while they are scattered about the fields they make perfect fodder for a painter. Just as good subject matter as an old kaffestuga--or boats or lakes or trees.
Ginormous marshmallows. Ice bergs. Dinosaur eggs. Space eggs. I have no idea what the farmers call them--after consulting with a couple of Swedes, we concluded there's no direct translation for white plastic-wrapped hay bales.
'Ginormous marshmallows' suit them best so, per Chinese proverb, that's the right name--as far as I'm concerned. Yet there may be disagreement amongst the wise.
But all names moot--words and names matter not to the cows--they who eat what's inside.
Oh, and the two laughing women? They did not return to see the painting; at least not within the hour. Too bad. I'd have enjoyed the last laugh.
If ever visiting Tallberg, stay at Akerblads (that's A with a circle above it pronounced as "O"--"Okerblads"). It's a classy, friendly, and homey place with more than a century's worth of history--founded, and continuing to be managed, by the Akerblad family. And don't miss the Zorn museum in Mora.
Paintings, acrylic and iPad, from our Sweden journey to be posted--weddingtonartgallery.com--soon.