Smurf’s up!

In 1958, Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo – a pen name he had coined after a cousin kept mispronouncing Pierrot, his French nickname – predicted that in “three years from now, no one will talk about them anymore.”

He meant a set of comic characters he had created, after he had forgotten the word for salt and had asked for “schtroumpf” instead.

What Culliford smurfed up was a magical village of blue creatures three apples tall and each with one distinct characteristic. They sing and dance, have parties and live a happy life under the guidance of Papa Smurf, their wise old leader.

The Smurfs made their first appearance in Spirou magazine in 1958, as secondary characters in a Johan and Peewit series, set in the Middle Ages.

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R is for Risto

The family legend is that when I was born, Dad looked up “Risto Pakarinen” in the Helsinki phone book, and noting the absence of the name in the mightiest phone book in the country, he decided that it was a good name for a son.

A little special, you see. Not just another John Smith (although, back then, being called John Smith would probably have been even more special in Helsinki).

So Risto it was.

And like most of us, I take my name personally. Every time I’m traveling, and I see signs that have “Risto” in them, I take a photo, and claim ownership. In Gothenburg this week, I saw a restaurant called “Ristoria” and sent the photo to my friends and I used to do that with every single “ristorante” as well, but it got a little tiresome. For years, even decades, I also often made the same joke of my being a secret restauranteur, and that my partner’s name was “Rante”. That, too, got a little tiresome – or so I was told.

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The 520 to the stars

All buses in the Stockholm county are red, except the ones that are blue so people talk about the blue buses as “blue buses”, instead of using their official line numbers. In Sollentuna, an suburb a mere 35-minute bike ride from downtown Stockholm, only the 179 that goes southwest from the commuter train station to Vällingby is blue, the rest of them are red.

About 35 years ago, a ten-year-old, fair-haired boy got off a red bus number 520 at the Sollentunavallen stop. He crossed the street, and had he taken a moment to take in the view instead of running down the stairs, he would’ve seen a 17th century mansion at the end of a Baltic sea bay, but his eyes were set on one thing only: the outdoor hockey rink.

The outdoor rink is gone now as is the other outdoor rink that was built next to the first one. Both are now indoor rinks, the first outdoor rink being now the “arena”, the second one a very cold practice rink.

On the red-brick walls of the arena there are two large ceramic images of local sports stars. In one of them, the one closest to the stairs that take you to the bus stop, there’s Kajsa Bergqvist, clearing 2.02 in women’s high jump at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

The other image, next to the entrance to the hockey rink, is a large photo of Mats Sundin in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, carrying the puck down the ice.

And from there, Mats has the best view over the bay, that view he may have missed when he took the bus from Viby to Sollentunavallen, the sports center.

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Born to be a goalie

Denmark’s Frederik Andersen just waiting to be discovered

COLOGNE – The hat he’s wearing says it all. It’s a gray baseball hat, with “The Great Wall” in red letters printed on the side. That’s exactly what Frederik Andersen was on Saturday in Denmark’s opening game, when he led his nation to its first win over Finland.

In the nine previous games between the countries since 2000, Finland had outscored Denmark 51-8, but on Saturday, Andersen turned away 37 Finnish shots, or 97.30 percent of them.

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A boy on the bus

“At least 15 people are dead after a crash between a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying a Canadian junior hockey league team, a tragedy that struck at the heart of a tightknit city in rural Saskatchewan and immediately echoed through the hockey world and beyond.”

– Washington Post, April 8, 2018

The bus was always my safe place. Well, all cars were and still are. I wasn’t born in a car even though it sometimes feels like it. From the day I was born, I’ve spent so much time in cars, reading, sleeping, talking, eavesdropping, eating, counting other cars, and being bored that cars have become my second home. 

Early on, my hockey bus trips were mostly short and infrequent. Maybe we took a bus to a camp four hours away, once a season, maybe not even that.

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Marcus Samuelsson – community chef

Marcus Samuelsson is many things. He’s a father, a husband, a chef, an entrepreneur, an employer, an author and a TV personality. He knows what he wants, and just as importantly, he knows what he doesn’t want. But the thing he seems to like doing the most is to open new restaurants. And since achieving fame as the youngest ever chef to receive a three-star review from The New York Times in the mid 1990s, he has been opening restaurants all over the place.

Now 48 years old, Samuelson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Gothenburg and the village of Smögen. He began to learn his craft in his grandmother’s kitchen and at restaurants in Switzerland, France and Japan. He then moved to New York, where he now lives and from where he runs a network of more than two dozen restaurants.

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Dreams in VHS

I know some people think that video store clerks are losers, that they’re kids, or punks, with basically no lives or friends, and that they walk through life dressed in clothes that push whatever movie is being pushed at the time and speak in movie quotes.

Fine, right now, I’m wearing a black T-shirt and a baseball cap with “The Heat Is On!” printed on them because we’re pushing Beverly Hills Cop.

The slogan’s particularly funny right now because it’s minus-25 outside. How cold is minus-25? It’s so cold that when you stand at the bus stop and don’t blink for a while, you don’t seem to be able to shut your eyes anymore. It’s so cold that when you inhale through your nose, your nostrils seem to get glued shut.

Both things happened to me when I walked from the bus station to work to our store just a few blocks away.

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The Phantom and I

Twenty years ago, my phone rang and a nice American lady at the other end informed me that she had a job offer for me. I accepted it on the spot, obviously, having been through several rounds of interviews and a visit to the company’s offices in the Stockholm Old Town.

I hung up, and got back to work without telling anyone. In fact, I kept the secret for another week, waiting for my frustrating boss to say something idiotic so that I could just quit my job right there, in a Hollywood movie kind of way. (He didn’t, so I gave my notice that Friday).

But that evening, I drove to the local pizza place and while waiting for the pizza to be ready, I went to the video store next door, and rented a movie to celebrate my new job.

The pizza? Pizza Bolognese.

The movie? The Phantom.

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