Adventures in post-war Paris

I don´t know if it´s this wretched weather (rain, rain, rain), but my pipes are not what they should be after a cold I had a month ago. Bound paper isn´t doing my health any favors, so I´m limiting my reading selection to electronic material. The library´s selection is limited, but on the other hand, I´m reading stuff I never would have found anywhere else.

My latest find is "Existentiell resa" (= existential journey) by Thomas Wahlberg. It´s not a novel, but a publication of letters, mostly written by his mother Britta, married at the time (1947) to Swedish artist Bertil Wahlberg, from Paris and Menton on the French Riviera, during an eight month long trip, when Bertil was supposed to work and study other artists. And he did, according to the son, who claims the 40´s (Bertil and Britta were only 24 years old) may have been his father´s greatest years as an artist, before he succumbed to the financial pressures (he eventually had five children by two wives) and painted more "sellable" things. (A quick look around internet auctions shows that his work now goes for prices well below 2000 kr, or 200 British Pounds, or 280 USD.)

This book is published by the author himself (I can not find any reviews of it online, at least) and the tone sometimes leans a bit toward the private. Between the letters he explains the background, sometimes ventures into the future and at times digresses into issues unexpected, sometimes interesting, sometimes not so much. A stern editor wouldn´t have gone amiss here. That said, I am charmed. Wahlberg has a very interesting story to tell and I read it all greedily.

One gets a real sense of the zeitgeist, both from the letters and the pictures, some of the adventurers themselves, some of the family back home, and some of the paintings that were made during the trip. The Wahlbergs married young, as people often did at the time. Sons Thomas and Jockum was born in 1943 and 1946 respectively. When the parents went to Paris, the children were left with Bertil´s mother Berta, and seem not to have been much missed. Clearly, there was a lack of responsiblity, both financial and parental. Bertil hardly wrote home at all, except to give his parents instructions about money matters, but when he did, his descriptions of Paris and France are very charming and hints at a literary talent. Some of his poetry (and other writings?) has been published by the son Thomas and I intend to have a look at it.

There were anecdotes I found pretty amusing. For example, in one of the first letters, from Bertil to his young wife, he advises her to try what was considered the next most reliable way to provoke a miscarriage (next to the infamous and dangerous knitting needle method), which was to walk excessively and drink lots of tepid beer. Apparently, she tried this with both pregnancies and I imagine the excercise and vitamine B only made her and the foetuses stronger. If it had worked, the British Isles would be scarcely populated, indeed...

I don´t entirely understand the title of the book. There isn´t much existentialism in here, although the young couple do visit the famous club Tabou and Bertil may have been more influenced by the movement than the text actually shows. It´s more about bickering with some Swedish friends that they share lodgings with, gambling, drinking and dancing. And one also gets a good insight into the horrid conditions in France and all of Europe after the war, where everyone was trying to survive and didn´t loose any sleep over ripping off and outright stealing from a young, naive, and seemingly wealthy couple from Sweden.

The author does not try to hide that there has been quite a bit of animosity from the children over being abandoned for such a long time at such young ages, but he claims now to be reconciled with it. And one belives him. The book is a rather loving account of the young adventurers his parents were and the tone in the book is tender. And I can´t decide whether this is the book´s greatest strength or its greatest fault.

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