garbo

Greta Garbo is making news again.

Sotheby’s will be auctioning a cache of Garbo private letters and photos, many of which outline her loneliness and frustration with being a female creative forced to perform what she deemed mediocre work.

To honor their release, I’m reposting a story about my accidental visit to her final resting place. Enjoy!

Just when I think being married to an architect couldn’t get more, ahem, entertaining, I am gobsmacked yet again. I spent a day riding a train to a remote suburb with MTM. We scurried along a grey stone wall, following it next to a road until it turned right into a gate, where the road opened up into what looked, to my untrained and tacky eyes, like Antarctica or that scene at the end of the movie “Alive,” where Aaron Neville sings “Ave Maria” as the cross comes into view on a range in the Andes. You know that place: where a plane crashed and they ate each other to stay alive.

MTM the architect took me to a graveyard.

Not just any graveyard, mind you. A UNESCO World Heritage site graveyard. A Gunnar Asplund designed graveyard. (I didn’t know who the heck he was either. Click on the highlighted link at his name if you are an ignorant non-architect like me.)

At the entrance to the graveyard is a cavernous sub-zero wind tunnel, I mean, a barren, snow-blanketed field with a mammoth stone cross set off-center and flanked by – dared I hope – a building. A modernist box that surely contained heat and some hot cocoa for me to sip while MTM flitted around snapping photos of screw details and blades of grass through the snow and handrails and the frame of the sky through a hole in the roof. When I finally dragged my frozen carcass to that building, I was devastated to learn that it did contain heat, an off-limits inferno for me – because it was the crematorium.

Who designs an inviting crematorium? Except an architect?

I steeled myself for more sub-zero wandering outside, following MTM down a graceful ribbon of drive that acted as – you guessed it – another wind tunnel. Only this time, there were trees on either side to break the gale. Or, to contribute to it. I don’t know which would be a more accurate descriptive.

Finally, we came to a snowy avenue through some trees. In the distance, I saw a white building with a pointed roof through an archway. Again, my ice-addled brain longed for a hot drink, hopes that were crushed once more when I discovered the little building was a funeral chapel. About fifty photos later – of the outside; a funeral was actually going on inside, making it off-limits for eager architects, even ones that wanted to hang around until the service was over and pretend to be part of the mourning party just to get a glimpse of interior – we wandered through one of the cemetery ‘rooms.’ MTM glimpsed what he thought to be a significant burial site on the opposite side, and I, who could barely move any limb by this point, trudged through the knee-deep snow behind him.

I made it to an aloof promontory, and who did I find buried there but Greta Garbo.

Suddenly, this was the best idea MTM had ever had, taking me to see gorgeous Greta Garbo’s grave, with her signature in gold on the headstone. Hyperactively, I took too many photos of my own and gabbed enough to disrupt her alone time.

I forgot that I was freezing. I didn’t want hot cocoa. The wind chill no longer touched me. I stood in the face of acting greatness, and I think it made me appreciate the architecture.

Maybe.

A little bit.

garbo
Skogskyrkogarden. Stockholm, Sweden.

garbo

A repost that I hope will be new to most of you.

I don’t have time to read these days, especially fiction.

My weary brain struggles to process this bunion of information, dropped casually into conversation. As a fiction writer, such statements are bricks hurled at my head, dental drills applied to not-numb gums. Honesty flays me open, rearranges hurts, shreds my very soul.

Why don’t people have time to read?

Here are a few things people tell me:

  • I’m too busy, say some.
  • By the time I fall into bed, I’m too tired. Thinking hurts my brain. I just want to get my mind still enough to sleep.
  • My to-do list is staggering.
  • The kids need stuff.
  • I’m harried and heartbroken, stressed and consumed by life. With everything pulling at me, reading is a luxurious waste of time in a world lacking finery.
  • A brazen few actually puff out their chests and bark, I don’t read, like it’s a badge of pride.

Fiction is even harder.

  • I can’t escape into a story. Too much is happening on my phone.
  • Really, I can’t do anything immersive.
  • Why read novels when real-life is one screwed-up show, and I don’t have to work nearly as hard?

Last month, I spent time in LA with my dear friend Debra Fetterly. One of her granddaughters straggled into the living room while we were sipping tea.

“What’s up?” Debra wondered.

“I’ve been reading for about an hour, and I’m so relaxed,” her granddaughter chirped. “Can I read a while longer?”

After she left, Debra turned to me. “You know, we’ve forgotten what reading is supposed to be.”

“What do you mean?” I wondered.

“Reading is a form of meditation. We’re SUPPOSED to read when we’re stressed, when we have too much to do, when we can’t focus. It’s a delicious form of escape.”

Reading is a form of meditation.

I’ve thought about Debra’s observation many times since I came home. I wonder how the world’s stress levels would change if, for just one week, everyone set aside an hour to lose themselves in a story. It could be about anything, transport them anywhere. Instead of wondering what new outrageous-but-the-same thing is happening in real life, wouldn’t it be glorious to go someplace different? Even if it’s only in our imaginations?

For thousands of years, reading was the seminal way for humans to escape the drudgery and stress of living. I fear we’re returning to the Middle Ages, only then people didn’t read because they couldn’t. An institution hoarded knowledge and shielded it from the masses.

These days, with so much knowledge at our fingertips, why do we choose to scroll, distracted skimmers of everything and lost in nothing?

PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. READ A BOOK. DON’T PICK YOUR PHONE UP UNTIL YOU’RE FINISHED WITH SAID BOOK. I DARE YOU TO TELL ME YOUR BRAIN DIDN’T BREATHE.

residency

My Swiss residency at Maison Binet conjured some surprising commentary.

Polly Glover sent me this remarkable Facebook message, and I wanted to share it with you.

My aunt, whom I loved dearly, lived in Trélex for 50 years right across the street. As a child, I met Mme. Binet and saw her weaving studio. She was such a beautiful woman, inside and out, as I remember. Madame Binet was close friends with my aunt, who kept up with her family until her death last fall.

When I googled Trélex, with the hopes to return there for a visit one day, your name and adventure came up. The family’s activities surprised and delighted me! How fabulous the artist in residence must be, especially in the village of Trélex.

Please take the strength from Trélex with you as you go out into the world, knowing you have been touched by an angel in Mme. Binet. Do what you love. She would want that. I have enjoyed reading about your adventures while in Trélex and wish you the best of life.

I love the thought of her protecting and inspiring the artists and writers who visit. Given everything I’ve been through in recent years, her message gave me much comfort.

And surprise! Even meticulous writers like me make gaffes.

A few corrections on the information I posted about Maison Binet, straight from the Trélex Residency’s curator.

Small correction on the story. Nina Rodin merely rents the place. The landlady’s father was Jean Binet, a composer. She was born in the house 80 years ago. The house is named after the composer now, but construction started in the 17th century. Some of it, including the yellow facade, is 19th century. It was a trading post for horse drawn transport between Switzerland and France. The space under the roof, now the studio, was probably the main warehouse space.