Ode to Karl Ove

Looking back over recent transmissions, I noticed that October came and went without my posting anything. There seemed to be no time. Then I remembered — I started reading the second book in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s sometimes riveting, sometimes tedious but always addicting six part autobiography. Like the first fat one I couldn’t put the second down. I couldn’t figure out especially with the second—which takes you through the uneventful daily grind of his life in Sweden with his second wife, their kids and their diapers; his limited cooking, and ample drinking and sitting on park bench skills—why I was so engrossed. Ionah would look at the cover and say as she passed by — still reading that self obsessed narcissist from Norway? Yep, still was.

He’s the family cook, not like me by choice, but by duty, which I wouldn’t push on anyone. In a rare mention of what he eats— cigarettes and coffee come up a lot, so does beer, wine, aquavit; but, occasionally, pickled herring and rye crackers— he wanders the aisles of the supermarket where he buys pasta, canned tomatoes, basil in a pot and factory fresh mozzarella. He brings it all back home, walking through the bleak Swedish winter, smoking. He cooks it for his wife; she doesn’t cook, and pasta is what she wants. He couldn’t care less either way. He could be cooking anything. Most of the time he heats up a pan of yesterday’s leftovers because food just doesn’t speak to him; he tolerates it along with his daily list of domestic chores.

But it sparked a question: he wonders, while waiting for the water to boil, why everyone wants to eat in this new way and what’s wrong with the old Nordic foods. As memories of out-dated tastes from his youth flood his brain, he looks back with nostalgia— and hunger for pork chops, onion sauce and mashed rutabagas. A cuisine many miles and years away from the ubiquitous Italian foods that his family and most urban Swedes eat these days.

a simple slaw to go with…

Of course I had forgotten all of this: as soon as I finish a book I forget most of its content within days. That’s my brain now; memory’s shot. But when I wandered my local supermarket last week looking for something, anything, new to eat, I ran into a stack of rye crisps standing in the aisle waiting to be stocked. It was there that Karl Ove and his struggles returned to colonize my already overloaded mind, and I welcomed the memory, the hunger and yielded easily to the craving. I picked a pack from the top: as luck would have it they were Swedish! I walked to the end of the store to look for a jar of pickled herring, which I found among the butter and yogurt. I got home and buttered a rye crisp, piled on the fish, opened some mustard, had a pickle and called it lunch. Now where’s the aquavit?

2 thoughts on “Ode to Karl Ove

  1. Excellent piece, Hugh. It brought up memories of my father’s family-the Swedes: the herrings for the smorrebrod at the Christmas eve extravaganza (God Jul, etc.), the kids forced to eat pickled herring at the New Year’s Day dinner, to ensure good luck for the year ahead. My grandmother, her sister, and my great-grandmother ate the fish nearly every day. Thanks for luring the memories to the surface.

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