Last Sunday I got back from Sweden, where I spent a full week in Valbo, a locality now part of Gävle. I had been in Stockholm the year before but this was my first time outside the capital and in snowy Sweden. I'd never seen so much snow in my life before and I felt like somebody who's taken to see the sea for the first time.
Before travelling I thought it would be tough to deal with the cold and so much snow; me, who's never been interested in skiing or winter sports. Cold and winter were defined to me by temperatures above 0 degrees, and mostly 5 degrees would mean ¨freezing cold¨. Now I must certainly redefine myself when it comes to temperatures. What's more, I must say I was happily wrong! I just loved walking in the glittering white snow when the sun was out. I felt so calm, so in awe, and kept trying to breathe in the serenity and silence that the landscape was laying before me.
On Saturday I took the train down to Stockholm to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition, which is being displayed in the city till January, and to do some city exploring on my own. Stockholm is a beautiful city and the harsh winter does not mar its beauty even if one needs to be more cautious when strolling the snowy pavement. Of course, the snow in the city is a different ¨thing¨ since streets and roads get so dirty by the traffic, but when one is well wrapped-up in warm clothes and so absorbed in contemplating the lovely architecture along the water shores, nothing can take away the relish of exploring this city, whatever the weather conditions!
So there I was...map in hand; frequently turning it round while I looked up from it at the buildings that surrounded me in order to spot the right landmark that would give me a clue of where I was in the printed paper; the same way one sees this virtual drawing pin when using Google Maps app on iphone!
When I came out of Central Station, I used the City Hall as a ¨guiding star¨ and made a deal with myself in my mind that I would come back to it later on in the day. My first target was the Terracotta Warriors as mentioned before. Unfortunately, this thought wasn't fulfilled this time but I know I will be back there anyway. The City Hall (Stadshuset) is my favourite building in Stockholm and has become part of my personal list of awesome buildings!
Unknowingly, I took the longer route to Östasiatiscka Museet (the East Asian Museum where the exhibition was being held), which is on Skelppsholmen island just opposite the Royal Palace. Nor did it matter to me, as exploring means actually that, discovering the route which will take you to where you are heading but can also unveil what you may not have expected to see. How unaware was I of whom I was about to run into by having taken the longer route!!!
I went past the Grand Hotel, where all the Nobel Laureates are accommodated during their stay, and kept on my way to the museum, stopping now and then to take pics with my iphone and delighting myself with the views. And JUST THEN, as I had walked over the bridge that brings you onto Skelppsholmen and could already see the Terracotta Warriors displayed on a publicity board, I see a slender tall figure, slightly hunched to shield himself from the cold morning, and walking towards me.....well, not exactly towards me but on the same way as me in opposite direction.
I just halted and made him come to a halt, and said: ¨I can't believe my eyes! No me lo puedo creer! Are you the person I think you are? ¿Es usted la persona que creo que es? Are you Vargas Llosa? ¿Es usted Vargas Llosa?!¨ He simply smiled at me with this lovely warm smile and said.....Sí, sí lo soy!!! I was so taken aback by this sudden encounter that I could hardly articulate myself. There I was, being greeted so warmly by the Literature Nobel Prize, Mario Vargas Llosa! We talked for a couple of minutes, he asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Sweden, I asked him bashfully if I could take a picture of him, and he suggested we should find somebody to take a picture of both of us together. Then, I just saw him off walking back to the hotel while I was left there floating in airy Stockholm, disregarding what was going on around me. I spent the whole day recalling that brief moment spent with this year's Literature Nobel Prize and I felt so happy!
I had listened to, and later on read, his moving discourse before the members of the Swedish Academy the previous days, and I'd seen him so ceremoniously be given the well-deserved Nobel Prize by King Carl Gustav XVI during the ceremony which I watched on the Swedish television the night before. Never in my life had I dreamed that I would run into him in a Stockholm street when he was walking on his own. Nor would I have expected to be the receiver of such a warm greeting, which simply confirms what a lovely person he has already shown he is.
On my way back home, sitting on the train to Gävle, I read his Banquet Speech and tears welled up in my eyes. Somehow, I felt I had glimpsed some traces of the bewilderment his main character was experiencing. I, myself, was still in awe by having been honoured with such an encounter.
On Sunday I took the plane back to Madrid. At Arlanda airport I met Juan Cruz, the journalist who was covering the Nobel Prize week for El País and who I had met on the flight to Stockholm the previous Sunday. He remembered me :O) He was flying back to Madrid as well, and so were Vargas Llosa and his wife. I told him about my ¨Nobel anecdote¨ and showed him the pics. Then, while waiting at the departure lounge as flight was delayed, he introduced me to his wife, Pilar, and also to Vargas Llosa's wife. We got to talk some more during the flight. Finally, when off the plane and waiting for luggage, I was once more ¨taken¨ to Vargas Llosa by Juan Cruz and he reminded him that I was the person he had met in Stockholm the day before. Thanks a lot, Juan, it's been so nice to have met you and thanks for being so friendly and warm with me!
Last but not least, I recommend that you read Juan Cruz's blog and his articles in ¨El País¨ whenever you have a chance. He is also a writer and I like to listen to his beautiful Canarian accent -and to what he says, of course!- on the radio or the television.