Our slice of sweet

Back in 2015 I published a series of stories about the travels I took through Europe as a clueless but cute dipshit which I entitled Europe on Five Dollars a Day. I’m extremely sentimental and so I’ve attempted to hold onto every receipt, ferry ticket, picture, and postcard from those trips. Some things have been lost but I managed to hang onto two letters I received from a young Italian by the name of Massimo. I met him after our camera was stolen so you’ll have to take my word that he was gorgeous but not at all vain.

The news has been so grim lately that yesterday I found the letters and sat down next to the window to reread them. My first thought was to transcribe Massimo’s beautiful thoughts and fix the English but … you know … they’re perfect just the way they are. At least to me.

Here’s the first one, exactly as written. If you like it, I’ll publish the second tomorrow.

Dear Jan,

Thank you for those few instants spent all together. With your smile you has been the AMERICAN DREAM of three young Italians so different for character but who represent the typical Italian today with his good qualities and his defects. I believe that one of positive points of progress is meet often persons of different countries. I believe especially among youngmen these meetings are formative. Our charge of enthusiasm, our love that is shift from religion to the humanity, let us exceed in speed the barriers of language and of custom of the world. The only obstacle remains the time that conditions us particularly. By custom we put off till tomorrow our moments of happiness, without realizing that we shall be able to have every day our slice of sweet. Lately I have read a Dale Carnegie book and I have found useful the advise to consider every day like a lemon to squeeze dry. But the day spends quick and often remains a little of juice to squeeze. When you were among us, it could not squeeze sufficiently. The opinions, the experiences, the feelings that could have blended, have remained in our mind. There, perhaps they will germinate overbearingly because they will be so as we think they are. The reality is always different, less romantic, but has always a fascination which draws us, lets us act. The action is infact the flag of a modern man. To operate, to enter into the world, to give the better part of us to others disinterestedly. That is very difficult, this is the way that about 2000 years ago had indicated us a J.Cr. and it is strewn with incomprehension.

Here at Worksop, in a fine day we have gone to Clumber Park, the nature surrounded, submerged us, reshuffled us, let us become more genuine, more human and I should have wanted to feel near me, also only to behold your eyes, and to see your smile as at Ostende the first time I met you. I write you as even if we have decided on coming to see in our travel to Italy I should like to receive your news here at Worksop to know like that you spend your time and which impressions have awakened for you these three Italian youngmen. Waiting your news with pleasure, I send you a spontaneous smile with the saluts of Albert who has tried to express in correct way these my words and of Andrei who after reading has begun to smile. Salut by all us also to Carolyn

Talle Svenska?  Ney…..

bookMany of my blogging buddies have hung up  “Gone Fishing” signs and closed comments until September which means they had the good sense to shut down for the month and either work on a novel that’s been suffering from terminal bloggerhea, or maybe, just maybe, they’re actually on vacation.

I wish I’d done the same but alas my head got stuck on another planet. I decided since I’d spent three whole years studying German, which shares its roots with Swedish, it would be no sweat to translate The Letters from Sweden, sender unknown that I talked about in a post a few weeks back.  All I needed was a Swedish/English dictionary! Easy Peasy, hey? 


Inte satsa på det ! (Don’t bet on it)

At the library I was disappointed to learn there aren’t many people in my small town with the urge to learn Swedish. There was only one Swedish/English dictionary. One! However there were books on Amharic, Gujarati, and Slovene – languages I’ve never heard of, have you?

Undaunted I checked out the one book and hurried home, confident that the secrets of the letters were about to be revealed.   


Lovely lettering but what does it say?

Lovely lettering but what does it say?

The problem, as you can probably tell, is deciphering the handwriting. The letters were probably written by three different people – all of whom undoubtedly received straight A’s in penmanship two hundred years ago – but I couldn’t tell their a’s from their e’s  which meant I had to guess.  And I’m not very good at guessing.

After several word by word attempts I realized you can’t translate word by word because the meaning of so many words changes depending on how they’re being used.  So I decided to attempt an entire passage and see if Google could make any sense out of it.  This method is rather like speaking in tongues but I was getting desperate. 

The letter below had the clearest handwriting and so I selected the second sentence, the one that begins “Du skribner,” for my little experiment.  I chose this one because I knew the word “skrib” meant “write” so at least I had some idea what the sentence was about.  Letter_0003

Here’s the result of my effort:

Du skribner att ni amnar att visa fron den platoon fom vi ar men vi tysken att mikar gerna blifrader mi an ack inte olag ga negra . . . 

Here’s what Google came up with:

You write that you intend to display from 
Pluto we are but we German to pickups 
willingly and not illegally.

“What does it say?”  My mother (who’d been waiting anxiously for proof of her oldest child’s brilliance) asked. 

“Well, I think your grandfather asked his in-laws to do something illegal so that he could display evidence that the family was from Pluto.  Apparently it is illegal in Sweden to reveal that you’re a Plutonian.”  

“Don’t you go writing anything nasty about the family!” 

“Who me?  Nah!”

My next brilliant idea was to “read” through the other letters looking for proper nouns that might reveal at least where they were from. A couple of the letters contained the word “Herran,” so I googled “Herran Sweden.” 

“Do you mean Herrang?” was the response. 

WTF I thought.  Maybe I meant Herrang. 

According to Wikipedia Herrang is a town with a history of industry and mining located on the northern coast of the county of Stockholm. Although the population is only in the 400s, it does have one claim to fame.  It’s the site of the largest Lindy Hop dance camp in the world.  The Herrang Dance Camp.

I must confess I had no idea what Lindy Hop was so I hopped back to Wiki and asked.  Here goes:


Pretty wild, hey?  Apparently this dance is a cousin of the breakaway, the Charleston and the Texas Tommy and got its start in Harlem, New York in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It was apparently named after Lucky Lindy (Charles Lindberg). I must admit it looks like fun.LIndyHop

So what have I learned?  Well, at least my ancestors knew how to read and write although what they had to say, I may never know!


Letters in Swedish . . . author unknown

After taking a break to ponder the delights of gibberish, I’m back to pulling skeletons out of the family dirty laundry hamper.  Perhaps I’ll find an even more illustrious ancestor than Deacon Samuel Chapin!  What do you think?Letter_0004

This is one of fourteen letters which were written in the late 1800s to my great grandmother, Nellie Nelson, from someone in Sweden (supposedly . . . we do not have the envelopes to prove this fact).  Nellie died after many years of ill health when her daughter (my gram) was only fifteen years old. After her mother’s death, Gram’s father, who must have been a dour old poop, refused to translate them for her.  He refused to even tell her who they were from.  His stance was “good riddance to old rubbish” and apparently Sweden and every thing Swedish and every one of their Swedish family and friends were old rubbish. Letter_0011

The only clues I have are the notes in my grandmother’s handwriting on the top of a couple of the letters, conjuring up the heartbreaking image of a young girl kneeling beside her mother’s deathbed hoping to learn something about her heritage. Probably while her father was out of earshot.   Letter_0007

Although she had little idea what was in them, Gram cherished these letters her entire life as my mother does now. Today they are very brittle, falling apart in my fingers as I put them on the scanner.  Paper that old should probably be handled by an expert and not someone as klutzy as me but time is of the essence, at any point they could be lost or turn to dust.  


The one above seems to be in a different hand, meaning that more than one person sent Nellie Nelson a birthday wish or wrote to tell her of family events.  However, the only thing I can glean from these fossils is that Nellie’s real name was Pettrunella Johansson (no wonder she went by “Nellie”). What will happen when I do find someone to translate them?  Do I really want to know the secrets they contain or do I want to assume they were filled with cherished stories from the old country?