Sunday, October 20, 2002

The heavy arm of autumn dropped roughly on all the chestnut trees in Stockholm very early Saturday morning, before the leaves could even change color. So we walked briskly to the subway on Saturday evening through piles of chestnut leaves, still green but crisp and shining with frost. We ran into friends as we walked, making us late, later, latest. We were on our way to a birthday dinner at the apartment of the guy from the Goethe Institute and his husband the South African publicist.

When we arrived, who should be sitting in the living room but the American ballerina and her husband the sailor.

Which wasn't in fact a surprise: We knew they'd be there. (But it was a suprise when at lunch with the guy from the Goethe Institute several weeks ago, he and I somehow figured out that we had a mutual friend in the American ballerina. Stockholm is such a teeny-tiny place.)

We ate all sorts of lovely courses with white truffles and cheese and tomatoes and peppers and chicken with South African spices. And we talked about sailing beautiful wooden boats from the '30s across the Baltic, eating sheeps' eyeballs, and cutting one's hair.

"It was so strange when I cut my hair," the American ballerina said. She was remembering when she retired from the dance company and she had had her long hair cut short. A symbolic act, since ballerinas apparently are supposed to have lovely long hair pulled up into a tight bun.

"It was amazing how heavy the hair was when I held it in my hand," she said. "And it was strange not to be able to roll my neck and feel it brushing my back nicely."

I wondered if she had kept the hair that had been cut off, as a souvenir.

No, she said. She'd given it to one of the Stockholm theaters or theater schools to be made into a wig or glued onto some poor actor's chin as a false beard. "Asian hair is very good, strong and easy to dye," she told us, fifth-generation Chinese American that she is. But her hair had not always been strong.

"When I was 15, my hair was too thin to pull back like a proper ballerina, so my grandmother gave me her hair," she continued. Her grandmother had apparently not given away her hair when she had had it cut. So the American ballerina had pinned the thick braid to her own hair when she danced, wound into a thick bun.

How strange and how poetic, to dance at 15 with your grandmother's hair pinned to your own, giving your grandmother a chance somehow to dance with the legs of a 15-year-old again.

The Swedish word for the day is ett hårstrå. It means a hair.

- by Francis S.

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