Torsten Ehrenmark, Master of the Causerie

Poul Ströyer: The illustrator most associated with Ehrenmark.
The other day, I was watching a documentary about American intellectual Paul Goodman. A close-up of a magazine revealed that he had been writing a "causerie". I had never heard that word in English before, and apparently, it´s not much used. In Sweden, however, if you read no literature at all, at least you will read kåseri, and in the 60´s, 70´s, and 80´s, everyone read Torsten Ehrenmark.

When I was little, my mother would buy his yearly collection, published just in time for Christmas, and then she would chuckle all through Christmas Day, while we kids were busy playing with our toys. It seemed like she was having more fun than us, so I would be second (and last, perhaps) on the book. I became very much enamoured with Ehrenmark, and I still read him with delight. The illustrations by Poul Ströyer contributed a lot, I think, to his literary persona.

Ehrenmark´s parents were actors and he grew up with his grandparents.

He made himself out to be a most impractical man,...

...constantly embarrassing himself with barbaric northern manners.

Also, as it happened (because I´m in this vortex of synchronicities right now) I had just had the librarians search their storage shelves deep and hard for a copy of his eight-part series from 1979, "Jorden runt på 8 dagar" (= Around the World in 8 Days) published first in 1975 in the national newspaper Dagens Nyheter (the Daily News, his employer from 1963 until his death in 1985). I remember this one from when I was a kid, not just because of Ehrenmark´s texts, but for the illustrations by Björn Berg. I was very much into drawing and illustration, and it is still an artform I much admire.

What Dagens Nyheter did, was to send Ehrenmark and Berg around the globe in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and his trusty servant Passepartout, to report on the adventure in an amusing manner. The library had a hard time finding it. Finally, they tracked down a copy in Malmberget, a big print edition (for the visually impared), but they assured me that the illustrations were all there, so I agreed to have it sent to me. Oddly, the big print didn´t extend to the illustrations, which were much smaller than I remembered. One drawing was so shrunken that much of the finely drawn details were invisible. Odd priority, considering that Berg´s drawings contribute greatly to the work as a whole. To me, as an 11-year old, to imagine having a job travelling the world to draw, and getting paid to do it, seemed like the perfect career. I still think that.

But look at the cover! How can anyone have thought it a good idea to make a cover like that? This, is what the original book looked like:

Ehrenmark lived much of his life abroad. He was a correspondent with several Swedish newspapers from 1955, and lived in Paris, New York, and London, where he settled for life, finding, I think, some affinity with the English and their ways. Still, in his causerie writing, he always made himself out to be this big child from Örebro, in a suit, perhaps, and with a cigarette, perhaps, but really just pretending to be an adult. A happy child, in fact, not even having a proper job, as he would assume his reader and every other properly grown-up person had. This way, he became a representative for every small-town Swede in a big, dangerous, and very strange world. His dog would drag him into trouble, his wife would save his skin, and his children constantly amazed him with their savvy ways. He made himself out to be a bit cowardly and indolent. In real life, however, he was a very versatile and sharp reporter.

Ehrenmark with students in Yokohama.
I would like to give you a taste of his writing (he is not translated, of course), and have selected a few pages for you, from when they go on an excursion in San Francisco:
"Hundreds of people stood on a lawn around a black jazzband playing deafening music, and the brave got carried away and started to dance solo with cramp-like quivers and closed eyes. It seemed more like a religious rite than popular entertainment, a kind of Western dervish-dance. I, who lack all understanding of rite and ecstasy, withdrew self-consciously. It is not the kind of behaviour one expects from people when one is from Närke where we stand with both feet firmly in the mud. 

Houseboat living in San Francisco.

I managed to tear the fascinated Passepartout away from all this exhibitionism and get him down to Fisherman´s Wharf. I thought it was the name of a restaurant, but it was the name of the entire waterside, with hundreds of restaurants, fishing boats, and yachts. It smelled like sea, crabs, and lobsters, but our crab was rather drab, and cooked without European imagination. 

Haiphong Road, Hongkong.

The boat rides to Alcatraz with one and a half hour tours of the empty prison, of the prisoner´s canteen, the lounges, the cells, the isolation cells, and death row, were sold out weeks in advance to people who have never been to prison, and relieved we gave up the idea of such entertainment. We walked south again towards the centre, leaned back with tripping steps downhill. And staggering, leaning forward with our noses to the ground like sleuth-hounds, uphill.

The lifeless, tree-less streets in the middle of town filled me with the anxiety and ennui that I call "Sunday Afternoon Blues", a melancholy I suffer from when I am faced with any kind of organized leisure. I, who have never worked a machine do not understand what leisure time is for. I realized that what I really needed was sleep, and promptly fell asleep on top of my hotel bed at sex o´clock, fully dressed. I woke up without feeling at all rested at midnight, and lay awake wondering what time it might be in Tokyo, but it was impossible to figure out. I undressed and continued to lay awake half the night. I woke at eight in the morning, still feeling weary. 

New York.
It occured to me that it was Monday morning again, or as the maid sighed in my youth: "It´s always, always Monday morning, but never, never Saturday night!" I had experienced one Sunday in Tokyo and one Sunday in San Francisco, I had had lunch at Fisherman´s Wharf on Tokyo´s Monday morning, and now it was Monday morning again. And soon it would be Tuesday morning in Tokyo and the day after that it would be Tuesday morning in San Francisco. I would live through every day twice for the rest of my life, just because I had passed the International Date Line in the eastern direction. A carbon paper had been placed between the pages of my life. I was just about to go crazy, when Passepartout came in and saved me..."

I had a very short-lived interest in autograph hunting (about one afternoon, when I sent away twenty or thirty requests) when I was about thirteen, and one of the autographs that came back was Torsten Ehrenmark´s. I treasure it so much that I keep it locked up in my safe-deposit box at the bank, even though he managed to misspell both my first and last name. I think the envelope is really cool, too, because it has an old Fleet Street adress on it, that he has crossed out (being of a frugal generation, with his feet still somehow rooted in Närke´s muddy fields, no doubt), as proof of his romantic vocation. Plus, he got to live in England, and how lucky isn´t that!

The yellowish tint to this photo come from the light source available in the bank vault...

 Torsten Ehrenmark - I miss you. Poul Ströyer and Björn Berg - I miss you, too.

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