December 16, 2008

A Week Without Daylight (Or One Swede Adventure)

A year ago my wife's work sent her to Sweden to cover a story on one of the Nobel Prize winners. It wasn't the same guy who won his prize on the weather. That man was receiving his Nobel Prize 415 kilometers away in Oslo. And BTW, I never did understand how he managed to get a Nobel Peace Prize when there were so many other people documenting global warming for at least ten years before him. But...whatever.

Anyhow, my wife was in Sweden covering one of the Nobel Prize winners for Physiology or Medicine. His name was Mario R. Capecchi. He is a molecular geneticist at the University of Utah here in Salt Lake City.

Lois was anxious about this trip. A lot of planning and preparation had gone into it, but the one thing that everything hinged on was her finding her passport. A passport she couldn't find. We (or I guess I should say she) looked all over the house for it. We did however manage to narrow down the time range as to when we both believed we last saw it. New York? Seattle? British Columbia? Any of them could have been in that time frame, but we knew it was at least three years out. That passport was in the Lost Zone. We were never going to find it. It had literally come down to shelling out the big bucks to expedite a new one and it was getting dangerously close to not having enough time to even get it in time. Fortunately, as the panic accelerated, I got off my butt and went downstairs to look through the boxes we had shoved in the closet and reached for the one buried at the bottom and pulled it out. Alas, familiarity was in that box. I dragged it upstairs and set it down in the middle of living room and announced proudly that it was in here if anywhere. And minutes later Lois started crying. She had finally found it.
Three weeks later Lois was on an airplane heading to Chicago, chatting with a stewardess while she stretched her legs. The flight attendant was telling her about the big-wig up front that had to be re-routed to get to Stockholm because he had some important thing he had to go to.

"Yeah," Lois said, "It's the Nobel Prize awards. We have to be there tomorrow."

"Well that plane to Stockholm was hit by a tanker truck last night while out on the tarmac," The attendant said, "You're going to have to make some other arrangements..."

The stewardess told Lois what she needed to do when she got off the plane so that she could make arrangements to get to Stockholm. She ended up re-routing through Amsterdam -- same flight as Capecchi. She was only a few hours late. Finally arriving in Stockholm, the excitement of the day had already waxed and waned. Exhausted, she headed for her hotel. A nice Swedish hotel. But not until after the cab driver took her to the wrong hotel.

This is her room. It was supposed to have a king size bed in it -- she has the paperwork to prove it. It cost many hundred dollars a night. There is nothing else behind the camera except her. And the wall she's got her back against.

Now at this time of year in Stockholm the sun rises at about 8:45 a.m. and it sets at around 2:45 p.m. The city is basically covered in darkness for 18 hours. The temperature was around freezing and any hopes she had to do any sightseeing had quickly vanished when she began to realize that this is what it would be like for the remainder of her stay. She was indoors all day long covering lectures and it was usually dark by the time she was done. Sometimes, it was raining, as well.

Stockholm Concert Hall

After spending a week in Sweden the time had finally come. On December 10, my wife arrived at the Stockholm Concert Hall for the award ceremony and then went to Stockholm City Hall for the banquet. She had been briefed beforehand that there was a strict code that had to be followed.

1) Absolutely no cameras during ceremony

2) She could not get into the banquet without an evening gown

3) She had to have a tiny purse

4) She had to have official government I.D.

When she arrived at the banquet on that evening, hundreds of people stood ready with special engraved invitations in hand. Each of them was about to attend one of the most prestigious events in the world. An event that has happened for over a hundred years. When she handed over her invitation she was told that it wasn't her invitation. They told her that the invitation she had belonged to her husband. Looking at the engraved signature it read Mr. Lois Collins. Not Mrs. This caused a brief amount of interruption as they tried to sort it out. My wife tried to explain that it was a typo but the man in charge insisted that he knew a little about American customs and that women usually took their husband's names.

"Yes," Lois explained, "They take the husband's last name. Not his first name. And we never take his title Mr."

And my wife didn't take my last name when we were married. She kept her name for work purposes. She tried telling the man that Lois Collins was her name. Just as he was deciding to involve someone else who might be able clear things up, the Deputy Minister walked up and said hi to my wife. The D.M. had actually given my wife her paperwork two days before and she looked at the invitation and handed it back to the gatekeeper and told him it was a typo. Problem solved. But now it had presented another one. There was a matter of the seating chart at the banquet. This whole occasion was such an extraordinary affair everything had been planned out to the tiniest of details. After all, the Royal Family was presiding. The menu was kept secret up until the last hours before the food was served and the flowers had been brought in only 18 hours earlier and had to be made into beautiful arrangements. The tables were set up to be boy-girl boy-girl seating. But Lois wasn't a boy. Oops. Lois' table was the odd man out. As the ushers frantically thought up a way to fix the problem, my wife finally suggested that they start out with a girl-boy girl-boy-girl order on her side of the table. That was acceptable at that stage.

So anyways, my wife was able to attend a one of the greatest shows on earth. So what if she had to camp out in a room the size of a walk-in closet. So what if it was dark the whole time. So what if the rain and freezing temperatures made it unbearable to go out into the night. She dined with royalty and some of the greatest minds in the world. At the ceremony in the beautiful blue concert hall, she was led to her seat, first row in the balcony -- right behind a pillar that would block most of her view. At that point, it wasn't clear even to her whether she'd laugh hysterically or cry. Then a Dow Jones reporter asked her to trade seats. A nice man, apparently, who explained he'd covered the Nobels before.

When she called me later and told me about everything that happened, I could hear the trembling in her voice. Despite all the shortcomings that had happened throughout the week, she was still happy to have been there. She was drunk with excitement. My wife had experienced an event of a lifetime...Nobel week...Sweden in the Dark.

The reason I bring this story up is because it is now one year later and Nobel week has just passed by. And because I have recently been playing the currency exchange on the Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge on CNBC. If you haven't checked it out then you should give it a shot. It's kind of fun.

It wasn't long after my wife returned that she began to gathering up all her expense receipts. She had taken a considerable amount of money with her and she was trying to figure out how to get reimbursed because the dollar fared poorly -- abysmally, in fact -- against the Swedish European Kroner and she still needed to convert everything back over to American money. She'd been hemorrhaging money. When she went to the accounting office she was trying to explain her situation to one of the bookkeepers.

"Theresa," she said, "I'm not sure how to account for my expenses. I paid for everything with SEKs..."

Her coworker burst out laughing. "I was going to ask if you had a good time. Probably, if you paid for everything with sex....But no wonder you can't figure out how to account for it."


zakary said...

That's an awesome story.

Krëg said...

Man, that was a LONG way to go for a punchline. Well spun though.

You won't believe my word verification, but I'm not making it up: retype

Lorrie Veasey said...

very funny-awesome post. And that hotel room? Exactly like a studio apartment in manhattan for $1700 a month.


Z~ gave me a chance to tell the story my wife never would.
To hear her version was actually pretty funny.

Kreg...there was a punchline?

BTW...I liked the comment you left on Spatula's give-a-way art contest last week. I'm growing fond of stick people.

We really like our room out west. Lots and lots of space. I can't believe the prices in Manhatton.

kwr221 said...

what a story!

I had to LOL at the end.

I can't find my passport either

Linda S. Socha said...

What a wonderful , incredible, well written post! What an experience. It definitely sounds as if you were there in spirit. I enjoy your writing. Hope your Holiday offers much of what you need and want


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